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He Just Waved At The Guard And Drove On By

June 19, 2014

Hey it looks like we’ll be done a little early today. Is there anything you’d like to see in Washington, DC?

Oh, I don’t know Rick. . .

Ever been to Arlington National Cemetery?


Pack up your computer and let’s go.

I was in Washington DC working on computers for the International Monetary Fund. This was a different trip than the story I told about the guy emailing his hard drive in The Snake That Ate The Centipede.

I was working with Rick Welshans, the IMF email admin. We headed down to his car and drove through the rain south toward the Potomac and the resting place of heroes.

Arlington has an interesting history. It was designated as a military cemetery by President Abraham Lincoln. He wanted a final resting place for the brave men who were fighting and dying in the bloody Civil War.

We pulled into the parking lot and wound our way past the tour busses that were collecting their tourists. The cemetery was about 15 minutes from closing. Rick didn’t pull into a parking space. He headed straight for the gate. As he approached he pulled out a faded piece of laminated cardstock and held it up for the Marine guard. The soldier glanced at the paper, straightened up and snapped a crisp salute. He held it as we slowly drove past.

Rick wasn’t in the military.

The iconic picture of Arlington is the rows and rows of square markers.

(Photo credit: MERCL)

These markers are the official government issue tombstone. And much of Arlington is devoted to them. But, there are other markers as well.

We wound our way through the drizzling rain as row upon row of markers slipped past. Finally, Rick stopped the car near a large tree with an impressive crown of leaves.

Give me a minute, won’t you?

Sure, Rick. Take as long as you need.

I sat and watched the rain trace rivulets down the window. Rick approached a grave under the tree and stood for several minutes. Finally, he returned to the car with eyes damp from more than just the rain.

My dad’s grave. If you have a family member buried here you get a driving pass.

We drove out in silence, surrounded by the ghosts of soldiers past.

I mentioned that Lincoln designated Arlington as a national cemetery. At the start of the war President Lincoln summoned General Robert E. Lee to the White House and offered him the job of leading the Union forces. Lee, who had not yet resigned his commission to join the South declined. He did not support secession, but said,

I cannot raise my hand against my birthplace, my home, my children.

During the course of the war Lincoln went through several generals before finally selecting Grant who would ultimately lead the North to victory. However, Lincoln didn’t forget the fact that had Lee accepted his offer, the war would have ended sooner and tens of thousands of lives would have been spared. It was not surprising then that when it came time to select a national cemetery, ground that would be as close to hallowed as a sectarian government could make it, he picked Arlington, the birthplace, the ancestral home of Robert E. Lee. Lee might not have fought against his home, but Lincoln insured that he would never get to live there again.

I’ve lost track of Rick over the years. The computer systems we worked on together are now ancient, WordPerfect Office 3.1, DOS 3.3. Computers have grown smaller, faster and prettier in the ensuing years.

But, obviously when I think of that trip, I don’t remember the computers or the systems. Today’s killer machine will be tomorrow’s laughing stock. It’s important sometimes to be reminded of what things really last.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children and one grandchild.

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  1. Susan permalink

    Great story. I will let his daughter know.

    • I would appreciate that. I’d love to catch up with Rick at some point, if he’s still around. It’s been a long time.

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