“Orders acknowledged!” Memorial Day 2024


“Orders acknowledged!” Memorial Day 2024

My only visit to Washington D.C before this past year was in 2011 following a prospective college visit with my son. The very early morning return flight from Reagan National those 13 years ago prompted the decision to make it an all-nighter. We swung north from Purcellville to explore Harpers Ferry at midnight, then on to the National Mall in those remaining pre-pre-dawn hours before returning our rental.

The Mall was completely empty, the looming Capitol dark and ominous, with the only sign of life being the security guard with whom we visited briefly on the steps of the Supreme Court building. Those were the only two landmarks we approached. Even if they had been open, I found my red-white-blue-blooded self with little appetite to enter or stick around. I have an aversion to palpable evil, reflected in my daily regimen of asking to be delivered from it. A vow was in the making.

In October 2023, my wife and I enjoyed an extended stay in Arlington, Virginia, providing the opportunity to fulfill that 2011 personal commitment to never step foot into the chambers of power until I had honored those who had born its full weight. Arlington Cemetery and The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial were only three Metro stops away from our daughter and son-in-law’s residence.

We headed for the cemetery one afternoon, cleared the security checkpoint, eschewed the guided tour, and quietly ascended the verdant, headstone-pierced slopes hosting the remains of those awaiting triumphant reveille…or, eternal El Degüello. Names, dates, and ranks compressed 250 years of decisions and consequences into 60 minutes of concentrated reflection and emotion. Markers designating “these-are-my-credentials-Privates” summoned tears, while the granite monoliths of 1973 SCOTUS justices, who should have known better, evoked bone-chilling horror.

The chiseled remembrances distracted us from noticing names of the tear-stained avenues we were navigating until we found ourselves amid towering oaks and columns standing vigil on the approach to The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Above the muffled rumble of occasional aircraft and chattering of squirrels frolicking overhead among their well-stocked penthouses, we noticed the periodic and distinct click of metal resonating from the open sanctuary.

We silently entered and joined those oaks in solemn duty and reverence for those whom the lone Sentinel honors with impeccable precision in continuous 21 second intervals. After about 20 minutes, we noticed the ranks of civilians on the steps around us begin to swell. Approximately 60 weathered veterans, some in WWII or Korea or Vietnam era uniform, were wheeled in and parked alongside the worn paces. That’s when we realized we were about to witness the changing of the guard.

As the relief commander, the relieving Sentinel, and retiring Sentinel approached and saluted the Unknown Soldiers who have symbolically been given the Medal of Honor, the wheelchair-bound veterans struggled to raise feeble hands to their brows.

They embodied family and countrymen, whose blood soaked battlefields and beaches since that shot heard round the world defied tyranny and trumpeted freedom: Concord, Lexington, Cowpens, Tippecanoe, San Jacinto, Salado Creek, Wilderness, Sharpsburg, Little Round Top, Saint-Étienne-à-Arnes, Omaha Beach, Brest, Iowa Jima, Okinawa, Philippines, Saipan, Inchon, Da Nang, Beirut, Kuwait, Tora Bora, Fallujah.

Vision blurred. Understanding deepened. Grief shared, especially that of my Great-Grandfather, James Andrew Stroud and Great-Grandmother, Gold Star Mother Hannah Stroud, for their son, Charles (Charlie) Andrew Stroud, and my Great-Uncle, WWI Capt. Edward Stone and Great-Aunt, Gold Star Mother Mary Lee (Mimi) Stone, for their only child, James (Jimmy) Edward Stone. It was a grief they carried to their graves.

Notice to James and Hannah Stroud reporting death of their son, Charles A. Stroud, Pvt. 1st CL
Notice from Adjutant General’s Office to H.E. and Mary Lee Stone reporting death of their son, James E. Stone, Pvt.

Uncle Charlie, who had spent most of his young life plowing and picking cotton along the Brazos River in Palo Pinto and Parker counties, died amid the WWI trenches in France on Armistice Day, November 11, 1918 after succumbing to that most silent, indiscriminate killer which most likely originated on the Kansas plains.

Cousin Jimmy, raised in the shadow of the Alamo, valedictorian at San Antonio’s Thomas Jefferson High School and standout freshman at the University of Texas, was killed at the Battle of Brest.

Witnessing the unfolding ceremony, I was undone with refreshed realization of why Uncle Eddie and Aunt Mimi loved all of their nieces and nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews, as their own children and grandchildren.

“No greater love” overwhelms the senses, compelling reflection on another once heavily-guarded tomb, its former Occupant being the object of our faith, the true hope for swords finally being shaped into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks. While He tarries, the blood of the saints, known and unknown, stiffens our resolve to neither rise to honor evil nor tremble before it, but to stand for truth, exposing would-be tyrants and traitors before entrusting them with the sword, and civilly removing those already wielding it.

God’s Providence is on full display. Our gratitude to Him is ever present tense. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

From the retiring Sentinels of freedom and faith we hear that forwarded commission, “Post and orders, remain as directed.”

“Orders acknowledged!”

May Memorial Day 2024 compel us to carry them out.

Copyright © 2024  Don Stroud