I took a deep breath and clenched the single red rose in my hand as I entered Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery. As I slowly walked through the perfectly lined rows of headstones, I witnessed young mothers with children in tow, kneeling beside the shining white stones and gracefully bowing their heads, yearning for the life they imagined on their wedding days. There were men and women in full dress uniforms placing open beer bottles at the foot of the stones and raising their own in toasts to their fallen brothers and sisters in arms, celebrating the lives they lived rather than mourning the lives they lost too soon. There were families embracing one another and taking turns telling stories about their loved ones, a new tradition that helped them cope with their tremendous loss.
Fighting back tears, I strained to read the small black numbers on the headstones, in search of grave 9151: Army SSG Scott Brunkhorst. He fought bravely alongside my husband in the deserts of Afghanistan, and although I had never met him, as I ran my fingers across the chiseled black lettering I fell to the ground. A small Airborne flag rustled in the wind in front of the stone and all I could think about was how easily this could have been my husband. Suddenly, the tears I had been fighting to hold back streamed down my face and I was overwhelmed by the heavy burden so many families carry in the name of freedom. I sat staring at the rock as if I were looking into the face of a man who saved my life; my husband’s life.
Memorial Day has passed and National Military Appreciation Month is coming to a close, but the significance of the sacrifice so many have made on our nation’s behalf is something that lives every day. So we must be thankful every day and live our lives to the fullest for every hero who didn’t get the chance.
By Nicole Tieman, SDI
May 29, 2015