Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Memorial Day 2008 at Section 60

I spent the Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery. All things considered, I would rather have been somewhere else, anywhere else. But sometimes you have to do the right thing, pull the covers off your head, get out of bed and face your life. On Memorial Day at Arlington, I have to literally face the headstone of my son, 1Lt Ken Ballard, who was killed in Iraq 4 years ago.

Brad Jacobsen over at at-Largely wrote a great posting putting some context into what Memorial Day 2008 should mean to this country. I encourage you to take a look.

As Brad mentioned in his post, the AP covered the events at Arlington with these words-
President Bush paid tribute Monday to America's fighting men and women who died in battle, saying national leaders must have "the courage and character to follow their lead" in preserving peace and freedom.

"On this Memorial Day, I stand before you as the commander in chief and try to tell you how proud I am," Bush told an audience of military figures, veterans and their families at Arlington National Cemetery. Of the men and women buried in the hallowed cemetery, he said, "They're an awesome bunch of people and the United States is blessed to have such citizens."

That provoked a standing ovation from the crowd in a marble amphitheater where Bush spoke. "Whoo-hoo!" shouted one woman, who couldn't contain her enthusiasm.

I agree with everything Brad writes, but I want to make it personal and add a different perspective of what happened over at Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery, the section where my only child is buried and the section where I gathered with friends and family.

President Bush will never have the "courage and character" that those fighting men and women who died in battle had when he sent them into his battle without good reason. As Commander in Chief, he should be ashamed to stand in front of our military for any reason. This Commander in Chief hides behind the military and the vets when he does not provide adequate protection, adequate medical care, adequate training, and a fair GI Bill.

President George Bush has not attended a military funeral of anyone who died in Iraq or Afghanistan and he has not visited Section 60 at Arlington to see the more than 400 graves of young men and women who have died in the wars/occupations in Iraq & Afghanistan.

Perhaps this Commander in Chief could have had the courage and character to make time on Memorial Day to see the families who gathered at Section 60, to try to understand the pain and grief his war has caused these families. Seeing 400 white headstones in one place from these wars should be a sobering sight for anyone. But wait, Bush had to rush back to the White House to meet with with five NCAA head football coaches, who recently returned from a seven-day visit to military bases in the Middle East to boost troop morale. Meeting with football coaches on Memorial Day, but not families whose lives have been so affected by his war does send the wrong message to the families of the fallen.

I'm sure his handlers considered the possibility that a trip to Section 60 might have revealed some families who would ask him to leave, as I would have done. I do not want to be anywhere near George Bush on the anniversary of the day I got the knock on the door, and believe me, he doesn't want to be near me, either.

I can assure you that there were no "whoo-hoo's" in Section 60 on Monday. There were tears, sobs, hugs, and a palpable grief that I wouldn't wish on any one. Some families and visitors met each other for the first time and exchanged condolences and some reunited, having met in Section 60 on a prior visit. The majority of visitors while we were there were to visit the newer graves, where the pain is so fresh and is almost uncomfortable to see. We all remember intimately those excruciating early days too well.

Our family and friends travel to Arlington each Memorial Day to celebrate Ken's life. We gather to remember and celebrate how Ken lived his life and not how he died. Some visitors to Section 60 might have been caught off guard when we popped the champagne cork of the first bottle, and if they didn't understand why, I'm sorry. We all need to learn how to wake up to this new normal and figure out how to get out of bed each morning. If they aren't ready to celebrate their loved one's life, or if they cannot bear to show any joy of their loved ones lives yet, or ever, I understand.

Memorial Day is the day that Ken's grave site is to be the most decorated in Section 60 and we make a great effort to do that. We leave the leftover bottles (beer and/or champagne), flowers; lots of them, and other mementos to let Ken know that we were there and that we miss him every day. He deserves that much.

Remember the Gold Star Families; for us, everyday is Memorial Day.


TJ said...

I wondered how you Gold Star families felt about Bush showing up at Arlington on Memorial Day when he hasn't showed up there for one of the Iraq fallen's funerals. I have been to 5 funerals of Iraq war Marines whom I have never met,including Caleb Powers, who is buried next to your son, I believe.http://www.flickr.com/photos/53479835@N00/46243315/in/set-1018199/ I am a Marine Mom (and now an Air Force mom as well)-that's the only reason I was there. For Mom support. There is an esprit de corps in the Moms dept too. Amazing that the man who "honors and supports our troops" hasn't shown up for any.
You should be proud of your son-he is a true American hero. I'm sorry your day of remembrance and reverance had to be sullied by the likes of George.
God Bless

Del_Abe_Jones said...

Section Sixty
The Saddest Acre In America

Men and Women buried here
Who gave their all for you and me
In Iraq and Afghanistan
So that, others, might be Free.

Row after row of headstones
Where friends and families grieve
They pay respects and say a prayer
There's some, don't want to leave.

Some will place a memento
For their Hero, neath the ground
And far too often, during the day
Hearing "Taps", a mournful sound.

The white stones bear their Name
Rank and Branch and conflict Served
The dates of Birth and Death
And the Citations, they deserved.

Maybe, a symbol for their Faith
Something, etched above their name
But no matter what, their beliefs
They're all treated just the same.

Once, Comrades in Battle
And now, resting neath that stone
Forever with, those other Heroes
So, they will never be alone.

Section Sixty, just a small part
Of this sacred, hallowed ground
But, each plot a special place
Where, a Hero may be found.

They all are in good company
Two hundred sixty thousand souls
Buried here at Arlington
Some young, with unfulfilled life goals.

All Served our Country selflessly
And they all deserve our praise
We should, remember them and thank them
Not just, only on, these holidays.

Del "Abe" Jones


Started with a group of twenty-five
In the year of twenty-eight
By those who'd lost a Son or Daughter
From the wartime's cruel fate.

When the Blue Star on the Service Flag
Was replaced with one of Gold
Everybody knew a Mother grieved
With a loss from that household.

"Out of tragedy, we were formed"
And, "Out of love we continue."
This legacy of Gold Star Mothers
With the heartache, that they knew.

They use the memories and love
Of those who gave their all
To help those other Veterans
Who answered our Nation's call.

It's so sad, they still exist
And most likely always will
As long as, we go to war
There's a need they must fulfill.

Del "Abe" Jones
Their observance day is the last Sunday in September.


There's too many Gold Star Families
Their numbers growing every day
Too much to ask those loved ones
Such a terrible price they pay.

All will say they are very proud
That their loved one knew the cost
That in the horrors of Wartime
Precious lives are sometimes lost.

But the death of a brave Hero
In the Service of this Land
Dying for some other country
Is oft times, hard to understand.

"In the name of Freedom!"
"For the good of fellow man!"
"To put an end to oppression!"
Or, sometimes some other plan!

There have always been those Souls
Who will rally to the battle's call
Who will bear those deadly arms
Who will march and sometimes fall.

Some will just bear the wounds
Though, not always clear to see
Some will never return the same
As the people, they used to be.

But the ones who have that void
Of that hole in heart and mind
They are the greatest Heroes
That we can ever hope to find.

Maybe one day in our future
Peace will be the way we'll live
But until then we'll have those
Who give all they have to give.

Gold Star Families stand in front
And shed their tears of loss and pain
And as long as Man goes to War
We'll see them time and time, again.

Del "Abe" Jones

The Tindoll Family said...

I've typed,erased,typed & erased so many times because I can't find adequate words to express my feelings to you,your family & especially your beloved Ken. We didn't know him,but my gratitude & admiration to him is forever & always. He fought for your family, for my kids & my family & what a wonderful & unselfish person that makes him. You & your family should walk with your heads held high & Ive got no doubt that your son is with God now & when you all meet again,what a glorious reunion that will be. THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART 1LT KEN BALLARD YOU FOUGHT,YOU SACRIFICED & NOW YOU CAN REST.