Arlington National Cemetery – Grim Reminders Of War

At Arlington, grim reminders of what matters
Courtesy of the New York Daily News
5 November 2006

The four young soldiers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry, four young guys in full uniform from a famous outfit known as the Old Guard, stood outside the Fort Myer Chapel, high above Arlington National Cemetery in the late-morning sun. They were waiting for the funeral service inside the chapel to end, ready to load the coffin onto the caisson behind them and begin the long walk with it to what is known on these occasions as the drop site.

“A Major,” one of the caisson soldiers says, checking the sheet he has kept inside his hat. “Not an active-duty.”

One of the other young guys nods down the hill toward Arlington, toward the rows of tombstones that seem to stretch forever from here into the bright sunlight and rolling green lawns and quiet.

“There's an active being buried at 3 this afternoon,” the second young guy from the Old Guard says. “We had one a couple of days ago.” The brim of his hat is pulled down tight over his eyes, so you can't see his eyes now on this hill above Arlington.

“Those are the worst,” he says.

There will be soldiers on caisson duty later, not up here at Fort Myer but starting down near the collecting area at Patton Circle. These are the ones who will begin the walk toward section 60 of Arlington National, where most of the dead from the Iraq war are buried. Two more last week, making it 271 in all from Iraq in this part of the cemetery.

Captain Mark Paine of Rancho Cucamonga, California, a West Point man, winner of the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart, is the soldier from Iraq who will be buried on this day. It was not his first tour in Iraq. He ends up in section 60, off Eisenhower Way, on a Friday afternoon in November.

“These are the days most people don't get to see,” Lori Calvillo, a public affairs officer here, a woman who attends almost all of these services, was saying later.

The ones who started this war do not want you to see the ceremonies that begin at Patton Circle or near McLellan Gate and make their way to section 60. They do not want you to hear the mournful sound of the bugle playing taps or the sound of the three-volley salute fired for Army men like Capt. Mark Paine. They would rather have Tuesday's elections be a referendum on anything except another young soldier ending up here.

There is nothing at section 60 for the people who started this war, who still try to tell the country that it is somehow essential to the safety of this country. The President rolls up his sleeves, like a tough, regular guy, and says, “If we don't stop them there, they will follow us here,” as if somehow his war in Iraq is essential to the future safety of Cedar Rapids. And then he is never near a coffin at Arlington National if he can help it, and he acts if a solemn outdoor cathedral like this, with a couple more military burials every week, does not exist.

He tries to act as if his party is still running on this war and runs away from it instead. George Bush wants this midterm election to be about anything except Iraq, and 100 more dead soldiers in the month of October, and no end in sight, even as his vice president, Dick Cheney, who set a world's record for draft deferments during Vietnam, surrounds himself with soldiers at a campaign stop in Colorado. Suddenly Bush and Cheney want everything to be about John Kerry all over again, now that Kerry sticks a foot in his mouth at a campaign stop of his own.

Only this election is not about Kerry. It is not about a peep show like Rep. Mark Foley's, or an Evangelical minister with a hunky boyfriend, or the cheap lie, peddled door to door by this administration, that opposition to Bush's war makes you some kind of weak, lousy traitor. No. Tuesday will be about this war, about coffins we aren't supposed to see at Arlington, about the back rows of section 60, about Captain Mark Paine of the U.S. Army, who was proud to serve his country, who was supposed to come home from Iraq for good so he could be home for Christmas.

“We get a lot of a stories like that,” Lori Calvillo was saying early Friday evening.

She was talking then about how Paine was supposed to be coming home in a month, talking about how the scene had been played out at Arlington National Cemetery again, this time for a young Army Captain out of California. If it isn't an Army man or woman, then the ceremony is different, Lori Calvillo said, depending on the branch of the service. It is another honor guard then, not the 3rd U.S. Infantry, the oldest active-duty infantry regiment in the Army.

It was a full Army goodbye for Paine on Friday, full military honors for him, a scene the Old Guard knows by heart: another flag-draped coffin placed on another horse-drawn caisson, the slow walk to section 60, the family of the dead behind the caisson, remarks by a chaplain, in this case Lieutenant Colonel William Barefield. The firing of the guns, the playing of taps, the flag being folded and then handed over to the parents.

Then the final resting place in the southeastern corner of Arlington National, this time for Captain Mark Paine, 32, 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division out of Fort Hood, Texas.

Captain Paine: a hero of his country who was supposed to be home by Christmas and ended up at gravesite No. 8434 at Arlington instead.

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