The purpose of our early morning departure was to drive to Arlington National Cemetery where, aside the Boy Scouts and several thousand volunteers....
We would lay 85,000 wreaths on the graves of men and women who have served in the Armed Forces for the United States of America.
It is almost beyond comprehension to take in the tidy rows of marble headstones, for almost as far as the eye can see. When we paused and read the dates, so many died so young. And despite when they died, last year or several decades ago, my heart broke for their mothers and those that they left behind.
We wandered up and down rows, taking a moment to say a prayer of thanks before laying our wreaths. When we had one wreath left, we made our way over to an area where only a few wreaths had been laid. As we were laying our last wreath on the grave of a man who died in his early 20's, a man walked up and asked, "Is this your family?"
"No, it's not," I told him. He stood silent for a moment and then pointed to a hill and said, "My father's marker is over there." He went on to tell us that this area where we were standing was for those soldiers whose bodies had never been recovered.
His dad had disappeared in 1961, near Vietnam. He was a pilot and his plane crashed in to the ocean. His co-pilot's marker was right next to his father's. When his dad died, he left behind a young wife and two sons. He was two-years-old at the time. His brother was three.
Three days after his father's plane went down, they found his navigator floating in the ocean. He was still alive. Earlier this year, fifty years after his dad perished, he and his brother flew to California to meet the navigator. He was in his seventies and was preparing to move away in less than two weeks. It was an emotional miracle that they had been able to find him - exactly when they did. Two weeks later, his number would have been disconnected.
Our children stood listening to this story, a story which Charlie and I both believe the man really needed to tell. And a story which Charlie and I both really needed to hear that would allow us to make a personal connection with a solider's sacrifice. As the man wished us a Merry Christmas and walked back towards his car, I surveyed the cemetery and felt a sense of loss, gratitude and patriotism. Although our children didn't fully grasp the sacrifice that this man's father had made for his country ... one day they will. And if they don't understand the personal stories for each soldier, they may find commonalities with these strangers which I believe, will endear them.
Participating in events such as this will ensure that they are immersed in remembering and giving thanks.
As parents, it is our job to lead them by the hand ... but also by the heart.