Each marker in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery, which holds veterans from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, has a flag placed in front of it during the "Flags In" Memorial Day tradition, May 21, 2009.

Each marker in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery, which holds veterans from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, has a flag placed in front of it during the "Flags In" Memorial Day tradition, May 21, 2009.

The rich history of Arlington National Cemetery dates to the Civil War and encompasses stories of wars past and present. Section 60 is a 14-acre plot where many service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan have been laid to rest. It’s also where a community of sorts has sprung up among loved ones. This Veteran’s Day we consider the lives, deaths and legacies of some of those buried there.

Guests

  • Robert M. Poole Author, 'Section 60 Arlington National Cemetery: Where War Comes Home'

Book Excerpt

Excerpt from “Section 60: Arlington National Cemetery: Where War Comes Home” by Robert M. Poole. Copyright 2014 Bloomsbury USA.

Section 60 in Photos

Transcript

  • 13:06:40

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. The rich history of Arlington National Cemetery dates to the Civil War, encompassing stories of wars past and present. And it's in Section 60, a 14-acre plot bordered by streets named for a quartet of men who made history -- Eisenhower, York, Marshall and Bradley -- where our nation's present and recent past is most evident. It is there that many service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan have been laid to rest, where a community of grieving families and friends has sprung up among loved ones who spend part of their lives there remembering their dead and keeping their legacies alive.

  • 13:07:36

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us this Veterans Day to share some of their stories with us is Robert Poole. He's a writer and former executive editor of National Geographic. His latest book is called, "Section 60 Arlington National Cemetery: Where War Comes Home." Bob Poole, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 13:07:54

    MR. ROBERT M. POOLEThank you, Kojo. Happy to be here.

  • 13:07:56

    NNAMDIIf you have comments or questions for us, give us a call at 800-433-8850. If you have a family member or a loved one buried at Arlington, we'd love to hear their story. You can also send email to kojo@wamu.org. Send us a tweet @kojoshow. Has Section 60 stood out to you on visits to Arlington? Tell us what you noticed. 800-433-8850. Or go to our website, kojoshow.org and tell us there. Bob, before we explore Section 60 specifically, could you remind us how Arlington National Cemetery came into existence in the Civil War era?

  • 13:08:36

    POOLEYes. As you suggest, it's a Civil War creation. And like many things that happened in our history, it was sort of by sideways motion -- sort of an afterthought -- that Arlington Cemetery was created. It happened this way. In the Civil War, like many wars, that war went on much longer than anybody expected. Many more people died than anyone expected. And as you recall, a lot of the action took place around Washington, D.C., Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, so that the casualties were piling up all around Washington.

  • 13:09:17

    POOLEAnd we basically ran out of places to bury people. So that, fairly late in the war, in the spring of 1864, a remarkable gentleman named General Montgomery Meigs, who was quartermaster general for the Union at the time, decided to start burying people at Arlington. He did this because it was convenient, because there was a lot of open space there. There was a lot of open space there because the property belonged to Robert E. Lee, who was then fighting for Virginia. He and -- Lee and his family had left the Arlington plantation. It was taken over by the Union Army as a camp. And then it became, as I mentioned, it became a cemetery.

  • 13:10:07

    POOLEAnd in May 1864, one -- out of necessity, because we needed a place to bury these people, but also there was a bit of vengeance..

  • 13:10:21

    NNAMDIPolitics if you will.

  • 13:10:22

    POOLE...yes. Meigs wanted to make it so that the Lee family could not come back to Arlington after the war. And it worked.

  • 13:10:32

    NNAMDIHe wanted to discourage the family from ever wanting to live there again. And as you pointed out, it worked. The other irony, of course, was the person who accepted the title to that property.

  • 13:10:44

    POOLEYes. This was after a protracted battle in Congress and later in the Supreme Court, Lee's descendants went to court to get the plantation back -- to get the land back. And it ended up in the Supreme Court. And the Supreme Court ruled, in 1889 I believe -- I may have the dates wrong -- but, you know, long after the war, they ruled that the property had been taken illegally and that it should go back to the Lee family. Well, at this point, the Lee family didn't want it back because there were thousands of people buried there. So Custis Lee, who was Robert E. Lee's oldest son, signed over the title to the property. And the gentleman who signed for the United States government was Robert Todd Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln.

  • 13:11:43

    POOLERobert Todd Lincoln was then Secretary of War. So I would argue, at that point, that's the beginning of reunion between the North and South, if the sons of those two guys could agree on something, maybe we could heal as a nation. And we did begin to heal after that.

  • 13:12:00

    NNAMDIAnd later on, it was not a war but the death of a president that really brought Arlington to the forefront for Americans. How did the death of John F. Kennedy change Arlington?

  • 13:12:11

    POOLEWell, you know, that's the first time, Kojo, that we, as a nation, ever saw a presidential funeral on television at the same time, from coast to coast. Everybody saw it, millions of people watched it. And as a result of that television spectacle, thousands of people wanted to be buried at Arlington. It put Arlington on the map again, so that the number of people visiting Arlington went up by, let's say, 2 million to 4 million a year. The number of requests for burials there from former service members went off the charts. Everybody wanted to be at Arlington. And the cemetery wasn't really prepared for it.

  • 13:12:57

    POOLEBut they -- one way they dealt with it was to clamp down on the requirements for burial at Arlington, so that not so many people would qualify for burial there. It really did boost Arlington's profile -- Kennedy's funeral.

  • 13:13:12

    NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're talking with Robert Poole. He joins us from studios at Vermont Public Radio. He's a writer and former executive editor of National Geographic. His latest book, which we're talking about here, is called "Section 60 Arlington National Cemetery: Where War Comes Home." We're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. You can send email to kojo@wamu.org. Are you concerned that civilians are largely disconnected from those who serve in the military today? How do you think that bridge can be overcome? If so, 800-433-8850. Bob Poole, for those who have not visited, it's difficult to convey the vast, sprawling size of Arlington National Cemetery. Section 60 is a relatively small part of it. Can you tell us what its significance is and how you came to spend time there?

  • 13:14:04

    POOLEYes. Just in terms of perspective, Section 60 is about 14 acres. Arlington Cemetery is 620 acres. So it's just a postage stamp on the larger parcel of Arlington, a very small area. But it is quite different from other parts of the cemetery. It looks different. It feels different. The people who come there are different. I think because the losses are so recent from Iraq and Afghanistan, the emotions are much closer to the surface among the friends and family who come there to pay respects to a lost son or brother or daughter. And people express themselves in very -- many, many different ways, as many different ways as there are people buried there.

  • 13:15:00

    POOLEBut, you know, there's not much you can do when someone dies, but you feel as if you need to do something. So this is a place where people bring gifts to the departed. They bring bottles of booze. They bring bottles of beer. They bring cigars. They bring pictures. They bring love letters. They bring teddy bears. They bring a favorite baseball glove. They bring tickets for football games. It's just an endless procession of objects brought from the community of the living to this community of the dead. And it doesn't take a genius to wander around there and see there's some pretty interesting dynamics going on there. And when I was working on the -- I wrote a history of Arlington Cemetery several years ago, "On Hallowed Ground."

  • 13:15:52

    POOLEWhile I was working on that book, I got to know Section 60 and even I could see that this was a special place. And it was a way for me to tell some stories of some of those who had been serving in our most recent wars -- some who survived, some who did not -- what brought them to Arlington. So there's a whole range of stories about people who came to Arlington.

  • 13:16:21

    NNAMDISo that even though much of Arlington is quite uniform, standard white gravestones, Section 60 does stand out in large measure because of who is buried there and who visits with them, correct?

  • 13:16:35

    POOLEYes. And what they bring there. For instance, I mean, something you will see if you go there any weekend, you will see cars pull up. You will see trunks open. And you will see people take out folding chairs and, you know, picnic items. And mom and dad may be going to just pass the afternoon with a son, a Marine, a soldier who was lost in Iraq or Afghanistan. They're just there to visit with him. You don't see that in other parts of Arlington to that extent.

  • 13:17:12

    NNAMDIMany of the...

  • 13:17:12

    POOLEYou'll see -- I'm sorry, Kojo.

  • 13:17:14

    NNAMDINo, go ahead.

  • 13:17:16

    POOLEYou'll see people -- people will come in and spread out a blanket and just go to sleep on a son's grave, a husband's grave.

  • 13:17:25

    NNAMDIIndeed, many of those buried in Section 60 were quite young, some still in their teens when they died. Despite their short time on this earth, they've left big impressions. Perhaps the Army major known to his friends as Taz exemplifies this kind of outsized personality that you highlight. What were Taz's wishes for how his death benefit should be used?

  • 13:17:48

    POOLEWell, he obviously gave this some thought and left very specific instructions for his family. This was Major Jeffrey Tazalewski (sp?) . He was from the Pittsburgh area. He was a remarkable soldier. He was a captain, later promoted to major. But he was a captain serving in Iraq. He fell out of a helicopter and fell to his death. But he had left instructions that if anything happened to him, first of all, he wanted to buried with a bottle of Captain Morgan in his coffin. And he wanted to be remembered at a party in Vegas -- Las Vegas.

  • 13:18:38

    POOLEHe set aside $100,000 and send out an email to his friends saying, "If you get this email, it's not just another sick Taz joke, it's because I've died. Please come to my funeral at Arlington. If you can't come to the funeral, come to the party in Vegas and I'll pay for it."

  • 13:18:58

    NNAMDIA remarkable individual, indeed. And I think we have someone on the line who knows Taz. Pam, in Pittsburgh, Pa., you're on the air, Pam. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:19:09

    PAMHi, Kojo. Hi, Robert. Thanks so much for having me.

  • 13:19:11

    NNAMDIYou're welcome.

  • 13:19:12

    POOLEHi, Pam.

  • 13:19:13

    NNAMDIPam is Taz's sister. Pam, what are your memories of your brother?

  • 13:19:20

    PAMNothing but a lot of fun, a lot of great memories, you know? I think it's -- we just actually hit our ninth year of his anniversary, so Veterans Day is a big day. This is the day that we actually had his viewing at Valley Forge Military Academy on campus at the chapel. They don't usually do that thing there, but this is where Jeff had started his career. And we just thought it touch in symbolism to that. So, you know, looking back, we had a great childhood. We had a great, you know, growing up. He just -- he really just symbolized so many different things for so many people. And, you know, if you were to talk to an ex-girlfriend, you know, he still kept in touch with all of them. You know, just symbolize that -- you know, he was very well-respected by so many. And, you know, here we are nine years later and it still continues. And it's still very difficult but at the same time his memory lives on.

  • 13:20:20

    NNAMDIAnd you know, Bob, one of the remarkable things about people like Pam and about Section 60, that you point out in this book, is that it may seem strange elsewhere but it seems normal in Section 60 is that people will come and carry on conversations to the tombstone as if the person under the ground is still there.

  • 13:20:40

    POOLEEvery day. I'm sure Pam has seen this too, but every day people do that. I think it is therapeutic but it also keeps the person alive in some way. It keeps their name out there. It keeps their memory alive. Pam, maybe you have more thoughts on that.

  • 13:20:58

    PAMI think, well, it's interesting, you know, my brother and I even discussed, you know, this day happening. I mean, he was 31 when he was killed but I think he strategically thought about this because obviously all of our national heroes are in -- they're at Arlington. So that was the first thing.

  • 13:21:16

    PAMBut the other thing is, you know, I was in Pittsburgh. Jeff and I grew up in Philadelphia. And, you know, it's a three-hour drive to D.C. He spent a lot of time in Fort Bragg, which is another short drive to get to Arlington. So he's kind of strategically placed. He gets a lot of visits throughout the year. And I feel -- I guess, you know, as his sister and his only sibling I absolutely feel better when I'm there, so, as weird as that may sound.

  • 13:21:43

    NNAMDINo, it does not sound weird at all, especially not in this context. Pam, thank you for sharing your story with us.

  • 13:21:49

    PAMThank you so much.

  • 13:21:50

    NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Robert Poole about his latest book. It's called "Section 60 Arlington National Cemetery: Where War Comes Home." We're still taking your phone calls at 800-433-8850. If you have a family member or a loved one buried at Arlington, we'd love to hear their story, 800-433-8850. Do you think the rules for Section 60 should be looser than those in other parts of the cemetery? Tell us why or why not. You can also send email to kojo@wamu.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:22:38

    NNAMDI...back. Our guest on this Veteran's Day is Robert Poole. He's a writer and former executive editor of National Geographic. We're discussing his latest book. It's called "Section 60 Arlington National Cemetery: Where War Comes Home. Robert Poole joins us from studios of Vermont Public Radio. You can join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850. Has Section 60 stood out to you on visits to Arlington? Tell us what you noticed.

  • 13:23:05

    NNAMDIWe got a tweet from Eric who writes, "Section 60 Row 8955, Christopher J. Coughlin (sp?) killed in action November 13, 2009 in Afghanistan. Everyone should visit to remember the sacrifice of so many." That tweet we got from Eric, obviously somebody that he knows. We move on to Peter in Alexandria, Va. Peter, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:23:31

    PETERKojo, there was a comment a little bit earlier about how we can get the military community and the civilian community a little bit closer connected. And one of the things that I was thinking about was that maybe we need to have national service of some kind implemented for people after high school. Something -- you know, the military's one thing but there's also opportunities to serve the country in other ways, Teach for America, Vista, Peace Corp, lots of other ways besides the military.

  • 13:24:03

    PETERAnd I think that it would be helpful for young people to experience something where they are giving back to their country rather than just enjoying the fruits of the labor of the previous generations.

  • 13:24:16

    NNAMDIBob Poole, during the existence of the draft, obviously many more American families were closer to the military than they are now. Your thoughts on Peter's thoughts.

  • 13:24:27

    POOLEWell, I think Peter makes a good point. One thing I noticed in doing research for this book was how -- first of all, how dedicated the people are who serve in our armed services today. But also how isolated they feel. It used to be everyone served whether they wanted to or not. And it was a shared sacrifice. We haven't really had that -- well, we had it in World War II, Korea, to some extent in Vietnam. We had a draft then but obviously there was dissention about that war.

  • 13:25:06

    POOLEBut in any event, I think a lot of the people you find, the service people you find in Section 60 and elsewhere feel a sense of isolation as if nobody knows what they've done. Nobody knows their sacrifice. And one of the things I wanted to do in this book was to maybe bridge that gap a little bit by telling some of the individual stories of soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen who served, what they did, what path brought them to Arlington.

  • 13:25:42

    NNAMDIPeter, thank you very much for your call. You too can call us. Are you concerned that civilians are largely disconnected from those who serve in the military today? How do you think that bridge can be overcome, if so, 800-433-8850? You can send email to kojo@wamu.org. Bob Poole, before the nation became engaged in wars on fronts in Iraq and Afghanistan, several sailors killed in the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 were laid to rest there. In talking to the captain of that ship years later, did you get a sense that those burials sort of foreshadowed what was to come?

  • 13:26:21

    POOLEYes, I think they did. And that commander Kirk Lippold, it's his idea. He made the observation standing with me in Section 60 where he had come to visit three shipmates killed in the USS Cole. That act which took place in October 2010 foreshadowed much that has happened since then. It was a surprise attack. It was a very small force against a larger force. It was organized by al-Qaida and they used a -- basically a suicide bomb to almost sink this giant United States destroyer.

  • 13:27:07

    POOLESo those guys -- the three guys from the Cole -- three sailors from the Cole who were buried at Arlington are sort of pioneers in a way for the wars that came later. Looking back on it it's easy to make that analysis. At the time I don't know how anyone could foresee, you know, what would unfold in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next 12 years.

  • 13:27:34

    NNAMDIThe broader, I guess, the more general observation based on that is that we never know for sure what we're getting into when we go to war. And Section 60 seems to reflect that.

  • 13:27:46

    POOLEI think that's always the case. You go right back to the Civil War, the same is true. You know, most people thought it would be over in a few weeks. It never turns out the way you think it's going to turn out. And it reminds me of the quote from George Bernard Shaw which is, the only thing we ever learn from experience is that we never learn anything from experience.

  • 13:28:12

    NNAMDIThe story of the first combat casualty of the Iraq war buried in Section 60 highlights one family's two generations of service in two decidedly different atmospheres, if you will, for soldiers. could you tell us the story of Army Ranger Russell Rippetoe and his father?

  • 13:28:32

    POOLEYes. Russ Rippetoe was an army captain. He was in the first wave that went into Iraq in March of 2003. He was from a service family. His father was a career army officer who became lieutenant colonel Joe Rippetoe. Joe served two tours in Vietnam, two combat tours. He was disabled in Vietnam. He came home. Russ followed his old man's example. He went into the army. He became a ranger like the old man. And he went into the first wave in Iraq March 2003.

  • 13:29:13

    POOLEHe and other members of his unit were maintaining a checkpoint, a roadblock in Iraq near the Haditha Dam that year. And a car pulled up. A woman got out of the car. She was agitated. She was waving her arms around. She appealed to Russ Rippetoe for food and water. I'm starving, I'm hungry. I need water. So Russ, being a good guy, went to get food and water or sent someone to get food and water for this woman. As they brought it back to her, she set off or someone set off a tremendous car bomb which killed Russ Rippetoe.

  • 13:29:58

    POOLEAnd the next thing that happened several hours later, there were soldiers on the doorstep of Joe and Rita Rippetoe in Gaithersburg, Md. knocking on the door to inform them that their only son was dead. He came back to Arlington as the first fatality from Iraq to be buried at Arlington. Joe was there, Rita was there. He had a big sendoff. Several hundred people attended the funeral but it was a very tough day for the Rippetoe family, especially for Joe.

  • 13:30:42

    NNAMDIGiven the fact that Joe was a Vietnam veteran, was he at all hardened by the reception that the returning veterans, both living and deceased get today as -- in contrast to the way Vietnam vets were treated when they returned home?

  • 13:30:58

    POOLEI have not asked Joe about that. We've stayed in touch since I talked to him for the book. I haven't asked him about it but I'm sure he feels that way. And I think that's an example of how we did learn something. We have made some progress since the last big war. Even if people think the war is a mistake, we're not treating our returning service members with the contempt that we did in that earlier war. So I guess that's progress.

  • 13:31:34

    NNAMDIHere on the phone is Bill in Annapolis, Md. Bill, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:31:39

    BILLActually it's Bill and Harwood, but what I wanted to mention was you said several times about the men at Arlington, and you may have forgotten that there are women that are buried there as well, including spouses of men or women who are also buried in Arlington who support all the soldiers and are a part of Arlington and the military experience.

  • 13:32:02

    BILLI've also got some heartfelt feelings about the draft and the fact that the more people that are included in fighting for their country or representing their country, the more people have an understanding of what they should or shouldn't be voting about or lobbying for on laws and who we go to war with. It's not until your children or your spouses are involved in conflict that you really have an understanding about what the losses are.

  • 13:32:31

    NNAMDIFirst lady Michelle Obama made a point of focusing on women in the military, women veterans. Bob Poole, would you care to comment on what Bill just said?

  • 13:32:42

    POOLEWell, I think Bill makes a good point about the -- first of all, the effect that a draft has on how we think about going to war. It's one thing if it's an all-volunteer service and they have to go no matter what. It's another if it applies to the whole country. It makes it much more difficult to go to war. And perhaps we're a little more sober about how we think about going to war.

  • 13:33:13

    POOLEOn the women at Arlington, Bill is right, there are women there. There are spouses there. There are now -- because of the way the armed services are changing, there are women who might not be directly involved in combat but have come back to Arlington from Iraq, from Afghanistan. Truck drivers, nurses, helicopter pilots, they're going out to war and they're coming back to Arlington. And you see that change reflected in Section 60.

  • 13:33:46

    NNAMDIYes. We recently spoke with Claudia Myers, director of the film "Fort Bliss" which features women in combat. And we recently talked about military families with a representative of the National Military Family Association. You can find that in our broadcast -- in our archives on September 17 of this year. We're inviting you to join this conversation -- Bill, thank you very much for your call -- by calling 800-433-8850. If you have a family member or loved one buried at Arlington, we'd love to hear their story.

  • 13:34:16

    NNAMDIWe're talking with Robert Poole. He's a writer and former executive editor of National Geographic. His latest book is called "Section 60 Arlington National Cemetery: Where Wars Come Home." If you're a veteran and plan to be buried at Arlington, tell us why you made that decision. Or if you prefer not to be, tell us why, 800-433-8850.

  • 13:34:37

    NNAMDIBob Poole, one threat that was not fully anticipated going into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was the use of IEDs improvised explosive devices. One local family lost their son in such an attack. How did the circumstances of his death affect their grieving process? Tell us about the story of Marine Jimmy Malachowski.

  • 13:34:58

    POOLEYes. Well, the -- you know, every war is -- has its signature weapon. And one of the signature weapons of our recent wars is the improvised explosive device IED. Simple to make, easy to hide and believe me, it's really taken its toll in our recent wars. We've spent billions of dollars to try to figure out a way around the IED. We've made some progress but it's still pretty tough, if somebody wants to plant one of these things, to combat it.

  • 13:35:35

    POOLEThe implications of the IED are played out in Section 60 and in other cemeteries. It affects the grieving process because quite often these devices are so destructive that the military advises families against seeing a son, a daughter, a loved one for the last time because the damage is so catastrophic. So I've talked to many people in Section 60 who feel somehow cheated because they didn't get to see a loved one for the last time.

  • 13:36:19

    POOLEA person in that category is Alison Malachowski whose son Staff Sergeant Jimmy Malachowski was killed by an IED. She actually did see him when he came back but he was very horribly mutilated by that blast. And that has some effect on the grieving process. Other families have elected not to see a loved one for the last time. And, you know, it's -- I guess it's important in the process of saying goodbye to see that person. And many families aren't able to now because of, you know, the nature of the weapons of the latest wars.

  • 13:37:09

    NNAMDINevertheless, Alison comes every month to Section 60, is that correct?

  • 13:37:14

    POOLEYes. She comes every month on the day of Jimmy's death in Afghanistan. He was killed in 2011 and she's very faithful about coming to visit Jimmy. She brings cigars, little, you know, rubber ducks, little toys, beads from -- like Mardi Gras beads, all kinds of objects for Jimmy. She also comes armed with a bottle of Crown Royal and drinks a toast to Jimmy, pours some in the ground. And any marines who are nearby usually are very happy to join in such toasts.

  • 13:37:59

    NNAMDIWell, let's talk about that for a second because one tradition that has caused some friction in Section 60 dates the days of Achilles. How does alcohol factor into the kind of rituals that are common there?

  • 13:38:12

    POOLEWell, I think the -- one of the oldest traditions of all going back to the days of Homer, Achilles and Patroclus. One of the things Achilles does when he's mourning the loss of his -- the death of his friend Patroclus, he pours wine into the ground, into the earth outside of Troy. And it's a way to honor his friend's death, a way to share a drink with a departed comrade. That continues to this day in Section 60 where you will see people bring bottles. They'll pour some into the ground, they'll drink some themselves, pour some into the ground, another drink for the person bringing the gift.

  • 13:38:59

    POOLEThis is all in violation of the rules at Arlington which say no alcohol in the cemetery. But it's been a rule that's been somewhat difficult for Arlington to enforce.

  • 13:39:16

    NNAMDIEspecially for the cop who tried to stop Mary Coyer, in your book, who traveled from Michigan to have a beer with her son Ryan.

  • 13:39:26

    POOLEYes. And she wasn't going to take anything off some punk cop, you know, who told her Ryan couldn't have his beer. So she poured what she thought Ryan could handle into the ground and poured the rest into herself and handed the cop the empty bottle.

  • 13:39:42

    NNAMDIBecause that's what he demanded. He wanted the bottle so she gave him the bottle.

  • 13:39:45

    POOLEYeah, so he got it.

  • 13:39:46

    NNAMDIBut after she had drunk it. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Robert Poole about his latest book. It's called "Section 60 Arlington National Cemetery: Where War Comes Home." We invite your calls on this Veteran's Day to 800-433-8850. Has Section 60 stood out to you on visits to Arlington? Tell us what you noticed, 800-433-8850. Shoot us a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:40:22

    NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Robert Poole. He's a writer and former executive editor of National Geographic. His latest book is called "Section 60: Arlington National Cemetery: Where War Comes Home." Bob Poole, another hallmark of these wars is a problem as old as war itself, but one that was only recognized as a diagnosis in 1980, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It's estimated near 20 percent of those who have served in our recent wars suffer from its effects. How is that struggle reflected in Section 60?

  • 13:40:53

    POOLEWell, unfortunately you will see a few graves there of people who had PTSD and didn't quite make it. They couldn't win the struggle. That's a signature injury of our recent wars. Even though, if you go back in history, there's been something like PTSD in every war that we ever had or anybody else ever had, some variant of it -- it was called combat (unintelligible) in World War II. It was called shell shock in World War I.

  • 13:41:32

    POOLEIt was called soldier's heart in the Civil War. You go to war, you see terrible things and if you are fully human you're going to have trouble making the transition back to peace, processing the experiences you had in wartime. Having said all of that, in fairness to our service members and the way that the services are handling this problem now, it would appear that most people who have PTSD do okay. They can manage it. They can deal with it and they get on with their lives. They're all right. But for whatever reason some people just never get past it and they can't get past the war.

  • 13:42:21

    NNAMDIWe got a caller, Harry, who couldn't stay on the line, who says, "To bridge the gap between civilian and the military worlds, educate the public on vets beyond PTSD and suffering. Many vets are doing very well and providing for communities." To which, Bob Poole, you say?

  • 13:42:39

    POOLEI say that's right on. I think that's true. There are, you know, there are some people struggle with PTSD, there are some people who have these invisible injuries, but many veterans come back, they contribute in great ways to communities where they live and they're getting on with life. And their experience in war time makes them better citizens and makes them able to contribute in ways that others can't.

  • 13:43:07

    NNAMDIOn now to Kristina who is in Washington, D.C. Kristina, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:43:13

    KRISTINAHi, Kojo. I'm calling because my father is buried at Arlington. And very briefly, his story is that his family were immigrants, very poor, during high school he worked three jobs during the depression to help support them. And he tested himself into the Naval Academy to get a college education. From there he went on to serve in World War II and Korea. And represented the best in immigrant contributions and the military ideal.

  • 13:43:39

    KRISTINASo when he wrote out his funeral instructions, being a very modest man, he specified that he only wanted the simplest burial ceremony available at Arlington, but my brothers and I decided that considering his service to family, country and even the world, he was going to have the full boat. And so he did. And one other comment about the hiring of veterans. It has been my experience working for comment, where there is often a veterans preference, that veterans contribute -- as someone else said -- enormously. And the employers benefit as much as the veterans do.

  • 13:44:21

    NNAMDII'm glad you mentioned the kind of service you essentially ordered up for your father. Because, Bob Poole, new traditions have cropped up in Section 60 after burials, but the funeral rights and the funeral rituals remain largely unchanged. Talk about that and about how much practice goes into the ceremonial processions and salutes that obviously Kristina and her family wanted for her dad.

  • 13:44:48

    POOLEYes. Everyone remembers an Arlington funeral. And that's because they are done with such dignity and such precision. And it's a time when families are often falling apart. There's no order in the world. Everything is going to pieces. And whatever your branch of service is, those people will come to take care of you for the final salute. If you're a Marine, it will be fellow Marines. If you're a soldier, members of the Army, airmen, sailors, so on. So each of the services have honors details.

  • 13:45:31

    POOLEThey're stationed in the Washington area. And much of what they do is practice for funerals. They spend hours of practicing, carrying caskets with weights in them so that they're prepared for the real casket when they have to carry one. Folding flags, a flag is -- they make it look simple, but it's sort of a magic trick, folding a rectangular red, white and blue flag into a tight triangle with only blue background and white stars showing. That's what gets handed to the family.

  • 13:46:09

    POOLEThat's what all of the honors teams practice hours and hours folding, unfolding, folding, making it look smooth. Firing a rifle salute at the end of the service is like a final gesture of solidarity between the comrades who are left behind and the one is going into the ground. Everyone who rates an Arlington funeral gets a three rifle volley, fired by seven service members at the end of the funeral. And, of course, "Taps," which is always a part of the Arlington service. Beautiful song, you hear it all day long at Arlington.

  • 13:46:54

    POOLEAnd every time you hear it it's quite moving. It's beautifully done. So it was very striking to me that among the community of the living at Arlington, there are these young men and women in the services who are there every day helping to give a family a final salute, a final farewell, a dignified sendoff for someone who has made the ultimate sacrifice for the country.

  • 13:47:27

    NNAMDIAnd that is clearly what Kristina and her family wanted and got. It is also what Richard, in Ocean View, Del., apparently regrets that he cannot get. Richard, your turn.

  • 13:47:42

    RICHARDYes. I served for 25 years in the National Guard and Army Reserve, but I was never called to active duty. And the last time I checked, the federal definition is you have to spend at least one day on federal active duty, other than for training. I spent a lot of time on active duty for training, but was never given the opportunity to be, you know, mobilized or deployed, even though I was in during Vietnam and I was in during the Desert Storm.

  • 13:48:09

    RICHARDAnd so I'm a little bit disturbed that I can't even get the designation of veteran, let alone -- I don't really want any of the benefits in terms of V.A. hospital or any of that, but I would like a military burial. Could your speaker comment on that, please?

  • 13:48:25

    NNAMDIBob Poole?

  • 13:48:26

    POOLEWell, it's not up to me, but I think you, you know, it sounds to me as if you've earned some recognition. And I don't think it meets the requirements for -- your service meets the requirements for Arlington, but there may be some way to change that. I don't know.

  • 13:48:45

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Richard. Good luck to you. We got an email from Michelle, who says, "My parents are buried in Section 60. My mother who died first in 1996, was in the Navy for 12 years in the 1950s. My father was in the Navy for 30 years and died in 2006 and is buried on top of my mother's grave. My siblings and I had noticed that Arlington Cemetery stopped using Section 60 not long after my mother was buried there until the recent wars.

  • 13:49:12

    NNAMDI"So now -- so only two rows over from my parents are the 20-year-olds who died in the recent wars. We have seen many of these families over the years. Does your guest know why they stopped using Section 60 for a time during the mid-'90s?"

  • 13:49:29

    POOLEI don't know why. I assume that it was because they had -- they were developing other parts of Arlington. There are other active sections of Arlington. So it may be that they decided to fill it, you know, half -- Section 60 halfway up or three-fourths of the way up, and then develop another section, to start filling it up. But I don't know the answer to the question.

  • 13:49:51

    NNAMDIHere is Clare, in Arlington, Va. Clare, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:49:58

    CLAREHi. Thank you for taking my call.

  • 13:50:00

    NNAMDIYou're welcome.

  • 13:50:00

    CLAREAnd I want to thank you for covering this important topic and also thank all the service members out there for their service to our country. I missed a good part of the show so I don't know if I've -- you may have covered something I had to say already. But I agree that there is a disconnect between military and the civilians. I appreciate what you're doing to help bridge that gap. And I don't know if my question relates to Section 60 or not.

  • 13:50:29

    CLAREMy understanding is there isn't enough space in the cemetery for all who would like to be buried there. And I know in the past year that they made a decision to raise some mature trees, mature woodland community in order to create additional space for burials. And while I understand that, you know, everybody would like to be buried in the cemetery and it's an honor, I wonder if many of those people who get buried somewhere where they raised a woodland community would be honored by that or actually appalled. And I feel that it reveals a disconnect that's perhaps greater than the one between the military and the civilians, which is between all of us and nature.

  • 13:51:17

    NNAMDII don't know. Bob Poole, what's your view?

  • 13:51:21

    POOLEWell, I mean, this has been done. There's no bringing the trees back. I know the section you're talking about. That's behind the old Robert E. Lee mansion, adjacent to Fort Myer. I think the cemetery has been -- for many years has been very frantically trying to find more space, more land around the edges of Arlington. They've raised the old Navy annex across the way. That's going to be open for Arlington Cemetery.

  • 13:52:01

    POOLEThey have taken the woods that you -- part of the woods that you've mentioned. They've taken a portion of Fort Myer. And if you take all of that acreage. The people who run Arlington have said that they think we could go another 50 years. There'll be space for another 50 years. But I don't know of any other plans to knock down trees. It's tough. That's a tough question, a tough tradeoff.

  • 13:52:30

    NNAMDIClare, thank you very much for your call. We got an email from Joe, who writes, "I've been to Section 60 many times and believe that the rules should be relaxed. I understand DODs and the National Park Service perspective about uniform treatment of all resting places, but Section 60 is for active wars, Iraq and Afghanistan and I suspect deaths involving the Islamic State as they come. There is a shared experience for the fallen warriors in Section 60 that is unique." Bob Poole, would you agree?

  • 13:53:03

    POOLEI do agree. I think that the rules at Arlington make sense. And the rules -- the idea behind the rules is that it should be clean, when you think of Arlington you want to see white tombstones, all in orderly rows, lush grass, green grass and not much else. The families and friends of people buried in Section 60 work against that every day because of all the stuff they bring. They're bringing offerings for their dead friends, husbands, wives, and it gets cluttered.

  • 13:53:45

    POOLEI admit -- I can see both sides of it. But if I were ruling Arlington I would cut the families a little slack. Because this too shall pass. They won't be doing this forever.

  • 13:53:58

    NNAMDIWe only have about a minute left, but here's Gayle, in Vienna, Va. Gayle, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:54:04

    GAYLEHi. Thanks for taking the call. I just wanted to find out how does one locate a burial plot for a family member?

  • 13:54:14

    NNAMDIAt Arlington National Cemetery?

  • 13:54:16

    GAYLEYes, at Arlington National Cemetery.

  • 13:54:16

    NNAMDII should tell you that we are adding a link to Arlington National Cemetery's home page, at our home page, kojoshow.org. There's information there and it's my understanding that they're very helpful on site as well. So if you happen to go there you can get information. But check first with the link to the Arlington National Cemetery website at our website, kojoshow.org. You should be able to find an answer there. I'm afraid we're out of time. Thank you very much for your call. Robert Poole, thank you very much for joining us.

  • 13:54:47

    POOLEThank you, Kojo. It was a pleasure.

  • 13:54:48

    NNAMDIRobert Poole is a writer and former executive editor of National Geographic. His latest book is called, "Section 60: Arlington National Cemetery: Where War Comes Home." Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

Related Links

Topics + Tags

Comments

comments powered by Disqus
Most Recent Shows