On a recent trip to Washington, D.C., I stayed in the Rosslyn section of Arlington, Va. One evening I decided to go running. I ran past the Iwo Jima Marine Corps Memorial and into the back gate of Fort Myer. This is home of the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, the Old Guard, whose members guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier 24/7 at Arlington National Cemetery.
This brought back memories both good and sad. I was fortunate to spend the summer of 1988 at the Pentagon, as a speechwriter intern to the Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. Carl Vuono, often traveling with him, accompanying him to testify on Capitol Hill, and to full honors arrival ceremonies at Fort Myer for visiting foreign dignitaries.
More recently, in 2004 I attended the funeral of West Point friend and classmate Tim Brooks, who died of a brain tumor while serving at Fort Myer, which entitled him to burial at Arlington. Classmates came from all over the country to attend his very touching Catholic funeral Mass at Fort Myer’s post chapel. We then walked behind the horse-drawn caisson into the National Cemetery. Interestingly enough, Tim was laid to rest next to Navy Admiral James Boorda. If you have never visited Arlington National Cemetery or the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, you must when you visit Washington, D.C. Even on their school trips there, I’ve taken time out to visit my friend’s grave at Arlington with my daughters.
From the spit and polish ceremonies of the Military District of Washington (MDW) to the grit and grime of war zones, I’m reminded of my father-in-law, Heinz Dittmar, the son of German immigrants, who had immigrated to the USA in 1926. Fluent in German, he served in the U.S. Army in Italy near the end of World War II, where he helped process Nazi prisoners of war. Only recently did my father-in-law tell us that his father, my wife’s Grandpa Dittmar, had served in the Kaiser’s Imperial Army during World War I, had been taken as a POW by the Russian Czar’s Army, and sent to Siberia! No wonder he and his wife fled the inflation and turmoil of Germany’s short-lived Weimar Republic and came to the USA.