A friend sent this to me this evening, and it reminded me of the Friday morning my friend Marylou and I visited the Pentagon, guests of then Pentagon Chaplain Col. Wm. “Whiz” Broome. We stood with him among the others in the corridor, waiting for the first soldiers to arrive. And then they did, wheelchair bound, leaning on crutches, on the arms of wives and family, some walking on their own.
It moved me to tears. They were so young. So beautiful. These were Mothers’ sons. Wives’ lovers. I couldn’t clap hard or long enough, it seemed. I wanted to reach out to each of these men and hold them, look into their eyes and tell them how grateful I was for their sacrifice to our country and my security. God bless you. Thank you. I’m praying for you. Col. Broome had thoughtfully brought enough Kleenex for Marylou and me. He knew we’d need them…
After you’ve read this, Don Surber’s got a little something else for you. Bring your Kleenex.
Fridays At The Pentagon
IT HAPPENS EVERY FRIDAY! WERE YOU AWARE?
Mornings at the Pentagon
By JOSEPH L. GALLOWAY
Over the last 12 months, 1,042 soldiers, Marines, sailors and Air Force personnel have given their lives in the terrible duty that is war. Thousands more have come home on stretchers, horribly wounded and facing months or years in military hospitals.
This week, I’m turning my space over to a good friend and former roommate, Army Lt. Col. Robert Bateman, who recently completed a year long tour of duty in Iraq and is now back at the Pentagon.
Here’s Lt. Col. Bateman’s account of a little-known ceremony that fills the halls of the Army corridor of the Pentagon with cheers, applause and many tears every Friday morning. It first appeared on May 17 on the Weblog of media critic and pundit Eric Alterman at the Media Matters for America Website.
“It is 110 yards from the “E” ring to the “A” ring of the Pentagon. This section of the Pentagon is newly renovated; the floors shine, the hallway is broad, and the lighting is bright. At this instant the entire length of the corridor is packed with officers, a few sergeants and some civilians, all crammed tightly three and four deep against the walls. There are thousands here.
This hallway, more than any other, is the `Army’ hallway. The G3 offices line one side, G2 the other, G8 is around the corner. All Army. Moderate conversations flow in a low buzz. Friends who may not have seen each other for a few weeks, or a few years, spot each other, cross the way and renew.
Everyone shifts to ensure an open path remains down the center. The air conditioning system was not designed for this press of bodies in this area.
The temperature is rising already. Nobody cares. “10:36 hours: The clapping starts at the E-Ring. That is the outermost of the five rings of the Pentagon and it is closest to the entrance to the building. This clapping is low, sustained, hearty. It is applause with a deep emotion behind it as it moves forward in a wave down the length of the hallway.
“A steady rolling wave of sound it is, moving at the pace of the soldier in the wheelchair who marks the forward edge with his presence. He is the first. He is missing the greater part of one leg, and some of his wounds are still suppurating. By his age I expect that he is a private, or perhaps a private first class.
“Captains, majors, lieutenant colonels and colonels meet his gaze and nod as they applaud, soldier to soldier. Three years ago when I described one of these events, those lining the hallways were somewhat different. The applause a little wilder, perhaps in private guilt for not having shared in the burden … yet.
“Now almost everyone lining the hallway is, like the man in the wheelchair, also a combat veteran. This steadies the applause, but I think deepens the sentiment. We have all been there now. The soldier’s chair is pushed by, I believe, a full colonel.
“Behind him, and stretching the length from Rings E to A, come more of his peers, each private, corporal, or sergeant assisted as need be by a field grade officer.
“11:00 hours: Twenty-four minutes of steady applause. My hands hurt, and I laugh to myself at how stupid that sounds in my own head. My hands hurt. Please! Shut up and clap. For twenty-four minutes, soldier after soldier has come down this hallway – 20, 25, 30.. Fifty-three legs come with them, and perhaps only 52 hands or arms, but down this hall came 30 solid hearts.
They pass down this corridor of officers and applause, and then meet for a private lunch, at which they are the guests of honor, hosted by the generals. Some are wheeled along. Some insist upon getting out of their chairs, to march as best they can with their chin held up, down this hallway, through this most unique audience. Some are catching handshakes and smiling like a politician at a Fourth of July parade. More than a couple of them seem amazed and are smiling shyly.
“There are families with them as well: the 18-year-old war-bride pushing her 19-year-old husband’s wheelchair and not quite understanding why her husband is so affected by this, the boy she grew up with, now a man, who had never shed a tear is crying; the older immigrant Latino parents who have, perhaps more than their wounded mid-20s son, an appreciation for the emotion given on their son’s behalf. No man in that hallway, walking or clapping, is ashamed by the silent tears on more than a few cheeks. An Airborne Ranger wipes his eyes only to better see. A couple of the officers in this crowd have themselves been a part of this parade in the past.
These are our men, broken in body they may be, but they are our brothers, and we welcome them home. This parade has gone on, every single Friday, all year long, for more than four years.
“Did you know that?
I didn’t cry this much giving my father’s eulogy. What a wonderful tribute to those who have given so much.
I think it is wonderful that the people of the Pentagon do this for the soldiers that arrive home for medical care and rehabilitation. I just wish that the care and support did not stop there. It seems there are too many Veterans in the United States that do not get the care they need. Whether or not they fought in Vietnam or the Gulf war or no war at all. I know of a man living on the streets who is 60 years old; fought in the Vietnam war and has medical issues; he needs surgery; He has been told by the Veterans Hospital doctors that he has a hernia and it requires surgery to fix. However; it is not big enough yet; regardless of the pain that he is in; it does not meet the requirements. They know he is suffering and they are sorry; but they can not help him. His glasses are broke; but he can only get 1 pair every two years; so he has to wait another year to replace them. It is just sad that they are treated this way after defending our country. If they were in prison they would get better care; including a free roof over their heads. But to see this man; to speak to him; you would never know that his country has let him down. He has a better outlook on life than most people I have known for years that work; have insurance; and a roof over their heads. I am forever grateful for the time served by the men and women of the U.S. and I hope someday our government will return the favor.