In proud remembrance of her sons . . .1941-1945
Inscription on the reflecting pool monument.
I have two sons, one now 18, and tears spring to my eyes as I read this inscription. And they do so, yet again, as I write these words. Each young man not only the son of the ideal ‘mother country’ but of a flesh and blood mother.
Here, 38 sets of brothers slain. Alas, that any should see this doleful day!
The cemetery is serene, yet grim with a kind of solidarity and unity. The plantings are angular, orderly, clipped—it is a soldier’s resting place. The almost-obsessive order serves as an antidote to overwhelming grief. The order holds against the wildness that wells up within. There are no weeping willows here or fragrant flowers to offer comfort: the cemetery does not offer solace so much as it stands in tribute to the discipline and manhood of these boys. It is a severe respect and, too, a statement of icy power.
Visitors walk quietly through the grounds, some congregating around the maps; history buffs assess the strategy or routes displayed around the Center. I play this part of dispassionate historian for the fictional Arthurian Roman War itinerary, but here I can not. The grief for sons lost is too real.
My father and his generation, my mother’s friends, her town’s sons. “So many did not come back,” she laments still. What can contain or release the raw mix of rage and sorrow, pride and awe as I stand amid the rows and rows and rows of white stone crosses and stars?
At 5:30 pm, two attendants begin to lower the American flag. Needing, without realizing it, some form of ritual to contain the grief and horror, visitors begin to congregate around the flag pole to watch the slow descent, imbuing the event with a larger significance. “Taps” is not played, but all stand in quiet observance, watching the folding of the flag as a kind of sacred communion. The simple folding of cloth, the final military symbolic action given to a bereaved family, speaks to the finality of life even more potently than the crosses. I shakily make my way back to the car, shattered and possessed of a kind of fury at the taking of all these sons, over 9,000 here at this cemetery alone.
No crosses remain to mark the losses of young men in the literary battle between Arthur and Lucius, but the work of fiction and the crosses that stretch geometrically across this cemetery both function as memorials for young men slain in all efforts of conquest, and of those slain still in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Alas, this doleful day.