Arlington National Cemetery War Comes to Arlington

Arlington National Cemetery

Part 3

Chapter 3: War Comes to Arlington

Photos and Material by Dan Brodt

(All photos are copyrighted unless otherwise noted. Permission must be had to use any photos that are not documented)

(Page design and editing by Bob Baldwin)

It was a beautiful early September 2001 morning at Arlington. The typical haze, heat and humidity of the late summer gave way to an early fall morning. Darrell Stafford,

Darrell Stafford

the cemeteries internment foreman, heard a loud roar, looked up only to see a low flying jumbo 757 descending rapidly towards him. The 757 was just above the treetops and the engines accelerated into a deafening roar. Boom! Boom! Boom! Everyone was flattened! The heat burned their necks. Instantly the cemetery grounds turned into a debris field. American Airlines Flight 77 had slammed into the west face of the Pentagon at 529 mph.

The Pentagon 9/11 Impact

This pre-autumn day claims 2,993 people in three states.

World Trade Centers

Flight 93, Shanksville, Pa.

For the next several months Arlington would be the repository for many of the Pentagon's victims.

The Memorial at the Pentagon

The fall of 2001 became a procession of inserting in between the lines of scheduled burials those Pentagon victims. Section 64, by coincidence, became the burial plots of the sixty-four Pentagon fatalities. To Arlington, these victims were familiar, if not by location, but some by name. Lt. Colonel Kip Paul Taylor was the first Pentagon victim to be buried a month later.

Lt. Colonel Taylor's grave was located nearby the heavily visited President Kennedy memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown

Tomb of The Unknown Soldier at Sunrise

Soldier. The graves of the Pentagon victims all form an island, standing together as they died together. A black granite maker positioned at the intersection of Patton Drive and Marshall  Drive lists the names of all who died at the Pentagon.

 

Flowers bloom in a flowerbed at the base of the 9-11 Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery, June 6, 2015, in Arlington, VA. The cemetery's 624 acres are a unique blend of formal and informal landscapes, dotted with more than 8,600 native and exotic trees. Intimate gardens enhance the beauty and sense of peace. (U.S. Army photo by Rachel Larue/released)

Unassuming, understated in dignity and of modest height, the five sided black granite marker lists the names of all who perished on 9-11 and those of five persons who identities could not be found. A lone casket contains the remains of those five and was buried on September 12, 2002.

This conflict was unlike its predecessors. It did not face the normal enemy on an equal battlefield. The cowardly small elusive enemy murdered indiscriminately civilians and uniformed service personnel instantly. The enemies tactics were not unfamiliar to Americans. Pearl Harbor, kamikaze pilots of World War II, Viet Cong assassins and the terrorists attack on the Marine Corps barracks in Lebanon in 1983 all rang true to this familiar cowardice.

Those killed in Lebanon are buried alongside one another in Section 59 near Eisenhower Drive. A cedar of Lebanon tree now grows over the graves of the fallen. Next the suicide attacks at the first World Trade Center bombing, the Kobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996,

 along with the bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998, then the USS Cole in 2000 produced more causalities for Arlington.

This strange new war waged on many different fronts and not with the typical military standing armies were not like any the U.S. had fought previously. In 2001, this new strange war brought not a uniformed soldier to Arlington but a CIA officer, Johnny "Mike" Spann,

Johnny Spann

and prisoner in Afghanistan to its grounds. The fact that although Spann served eight years in the U.S. Marine Corps, he did not die as a uniformed soldier. A special exemption had to be made for his burial at Arlington. President George W. Bush signed a waiver allowing Spann to be buried in Section 34-Pershing Hill. Section 60 became the "saddest acre in America" for some five thousand plus Americans killed in fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. Army Captain Russell B. Rippetoe was the first casualty from Iraq to be buried at Arlington in Section 60.

Russell Rippetowe

The five acre plot, known as Section 60,

marks the location where many of those who have been laid to rest as a result of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. A Memorial Day event, one of Arlington's biggest, had thousands of families, visitors and processions of motorcycles from the members of Rolling Thunder filling the streets of Washington.

Rolling Thunder

 

Meanwhile, members of the Old Guard place miniature flags before each grave on the fields of stone. What emerges is a portrait of our national cemetery as a living, breathing community. Section 60 comes as a result of a new enemy and a new kind of death. Improved Explosive Devices, suicide bombs, an enemy who is part of the local community unnoticeable from residents who live there daily, change the nature and the result of those new methods of death and destruction. Suicide, PTSD, maiming of the soldiers body reappear from ancient times to the modern day. Section 60 is a window from the past looking into the latest wars.

But again conflict arose at Arlington. This time the leader of the Army's Old Guard, Sfc. Robert A. Durbin,

SFC Robert A. Durbin

who saw hundreds of men and women into their graves, was deployed to Iraq, and helped pull a mangled dead soldier from the wreckage of his vehicle. SSG. Jerald Allen Whisenhunt was bound for burial at Arlington.

Jerald Allen Whisenhunt

SFC Durbin learned that this enlisted NCO would not receive the same full honors that an officer or NCO E-9 received. Durbin's plea on behalf of enlisted soldiers took more than a year to gain traction. Only when the final appeal reached the Secretary of the Army Pete Geren,

Secretary of the Army Pete Geren

did Durbin's plea get the recognition it deserved. Secretary of the Army Geren'directed that full honors become a standard for all soldiers killed in action. Arlington overcame another conflict making the cemetery less rank conscious and a bit less elitist since General Pershing's arrival some fifty years before.

The first soldier to be buried in Section 60 under the new standards was Army Specialist Joseph M. Hernandez, killed in action in Afghanistan.

Joseph M. Hernandez

The funeral and burial schedule was so filled that there were no caissons available to carry the body to the grave site. Instead a silver hearse transported the body to Section 60 in sub freezing temperatures. Since band instruments froze, a single drum beat seemed more poignant for this occasion. The bugler sent TAPS ringing true and clear over the cemetery

Taps

lamenting another loss of a young warrior and welcoming Spc. Hernandez to Arlington.

 

Next: Part Three, Chapter 4 Mismanagement in all Respects

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