Today the mist was heavy, thick and still. The lack of wind carried the sound of the first cannon shot to my ears with a dull “whump” as I walked along north parking, toward my office at the Pentagon. Arlington National Cemetery is located just over the rise, and backs up to the Pentagon reservation, which historians claim was built relatively flat so as not to obstruct views of downtown Washington DC to the east or the cemetery to the north and west. “Whump”, the second volley sounds. Most people don’t miss a step and continue walking at full stride toward work, but I slow down and casually look over my shoulder. Small white specks I know to be head stones, barely perceptible in the mist, dot the landscape in the distance, “whump”, a third cannon goes off. I wonder who the service is for this morning; a war hero, a general, a senior political official. Cannon salutes are normally reserved for dignitaries, so I imagine the ceremony is for someone who dedicated his or her life to their country.
“Whump”, another round sounds, and I am at a slow stroll, thinking back to my father’s funeral at Arlington, years earlier. His quiet resting spot in the south west corner near McArthur Street in the cemetery is just out of view. It was ironic but a befitting final resting place in Arlington, as he had fought in the Pacific under McArthur in the Philippines; “whump”, volley five. I remember the military services and honors my father received there during his funeral. The Caisson, the honor guards, the rifle salute, the bugler in the distance, all conducted with perfect precision, all befitting his service to his country, for a job well done. I pause for the next “whump”, and number six comes at the precise time.
Subconsciously I am counting the seconds, the next “whump” continues the perfect intervals, number seven; I keep walking slowly, very slowly. There is no other profession I can think whose members honor their fallen with such dignity and grace, as if to say thank you, and this thought makes me proud to be part of such a patriotic family. “Whump”, number eight sounds, then another equal long pause followed by “whump”, number nine. There is comfort to be taken from this fact, and in knowing when my turn comes, I will rest among friends, family, and alongside previously fallen warriors.
As I approach the building, “Whump”, number ten and I stop. According to protocol five-star military flag rank or higher civilians are given 19 cannon volleys and this reduces by two for each star rank. “Whump”, number eleven, and I listen intently for the next round, but there is nothing. The silence continues long past the interval I had grown used to the past few minutes, eleven rounds, probably a one star general or admiral I conclude. Someone I have most likely never met, yet someone with whom I share more in common than most. As I turn and continue toward the door, I can only hope the family is somehow comforted and honored by the farewell given to their fallen hero. I know I am, and I say a little prayer that he or she rests in peace.