Sunday, May 29, 2011

Where Heroes Rest

The scent of eucalyptus filled the air as I stood on a bluff gazing out at the Golden Gate Bridge. Far below that, the water flowing from the Pacific Ocean into San Francisco Bay looked deceptively calm as it passed between the craggy headlands of two peninsulas, and I thought about the fact that this spot was called “the Golden Gate” long before anyone considered building a bridge across it.

But the inconspicuous view behind me was every bit as inspiring as that grand view in front of me. I kept glimpsing back at a military cemetery that was stretched out on a verdant hillside, complete with long rows of those unmistakable, Tylenol-tablet headstones. Although parts of the cemetery were visible, the elevation and eucalyptus trees lent a degree of separation from the throngs of camera-toters photographing the bridge.

That was the day I decided that no matter where you are in the United States, a visit to a military cemetery is never a bad idea. And today is the perfect time to share that thought, as we enter a five-week stretch that includes four patriotic holidays and anniversaries: Memorial Day on May 30, followed by the anniversary of D-Day on June 6, Flag Day on June 14, and Independence Day on July 4.

Military cemeteries are places of solemn contemplation. The people laid to rest in them are true heroes, not fictional ones from comic books. They placed their lives on the line -- and in many cases lost their lives -- to protect the freedom we take for granted.

These cemeteries are also places of beauty and symmetry, from their uniform rows of headstones to their stately rows of mausoleums.

And they are places of tranquility, infused with a kind of stillness that words can not describe. When I recently visited Florida National Cemetery, where my grandfather was buried in 2008, I was met with a sense of peace that was overpowering. Maybe that is because these places also have a sense of purpose, borne from the understanding that the people buried in them lived lives of service and were secure in the knowledge that they made a positive difference during their time on Earth.

Military cemeteries (or national cemeteries, as some are properly called) can be found all across America, so you do not need to be somewhere like Arlington to visit one. For a list of their locations, go here or here. Pay a visit to one in the coming weeks and I guarantee you will not regret it.

And with Memorial Day being tomorrow, if you are in the mood to contemplate its meaning while sitting at your computer, allow me to humbly refer you to my past scribblings here and here.

Note: All of the pictures on this post were taken at Florida National Cemetery, which is a splendid place to see. However, it ranks as one of my all-time biggest “travel regrets” that I neglected to take any pictures of the cemetery by the Golden Gate.