New Book Captures Solemnity, Ceremony at Arlington Cemetery
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, Va., May. 21, 2007 A black and white photograph with Arlington National Cemetery as the somber yet sublime backdrop captures a lone mourner kneeling before a headstone among seemingly endless rows of pale grave markers.
Stones, flowers and other symbols of remembrance grace the grave of Army Sgt. Michael J. Bordelon, who died in May 2005 during a combat operation abroad. Photo by David Burnett, used by permission
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
This poignant image and others are spread across the pages of “Where Valor Rests: Arlington National Cemetery,” a new book that debuted May 18 here. The 191-page book embodies the culmination of a two-year effort by Arlington National Cemetery Commemorative Project, Inc., in conjunction with National Geographic, and Rich Clarkson and Associates.
In the cemetery’s information center, the commemorative book that salutes members of U.S. armed forces who now rest here was presented to five military families representing each of the service branches.
“I go to see him every month with my kids, because I feel at peace. I feel like he’s here,” said Laura Youngblood, who lives in Columbus, Ohio -- an eight-hour drive from where her husband, Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Travis L. Youngblood, is buried.
“I sit by the headstone and just feel whole again,” Youngblood said. “He was my children’s father, he was a son, a brother. To other people he may be a number, but my husband was my husband.”
The sailor, who is survived by Laura Youngblood and their young son, Hunter, and daughter, Emma, was killed in July 2005 by an improvised explosive device in Iraq. Laura and her wide-eyed children accepted a personalized copy of “Where Valor Rests” on behalf of families who have lost Navy sailors during the war on terrorism.
“Many people passionately labored to develop a befitting gift to fill an astronomical void left by the untimely departure of the irreplaceable men and women known simply by most as mom or dad, or my brother or sister, or my husband or my wife, my son or my daughter,” said retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Carl H. McNair, chairman and president of the Arlington National Cemetery Commemorative Project, Inc.
“This gift had to convey our nation’s admiration while acknowledging the enormous pain and loss the ultimate sacrifices bring to those left behind,” McNair said. “To our distinguished visitors and those similarly situated, this gift had to assist your families in healing, by bringing the spirit and fond memories of your brave loves ones resting here in the serenity of Arlington, a little closer to home.”
McNair then announced that Arlington National Cemetery Commemorative Project and its partners will donate 5,500 copies of “Where Valor Rests” “to those serving on land, sea and in the air.”
Accepting the book on behalf of Army families was Army Command Sgt. Maj. Debra L. Strickland, wife of Army Sgt. Maj. Larry Strickland, who died when American Airlines Flight 77 struck the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. Mike and Jacqueline Chavis received the book for families of fallen airmen; their son, Air Force Airman 1st Class Lee Bernard Chavis, died October 2006 when a sniper shot and killed him in Baghdad.
Marine Capt. Brian Letendre died in May 2006 during combat in Iraq, and accepting the book on behalf of Marine families was his widow, Autumn Letendre, and their son, Dillon. Representing the fallen Coast Guardsmen was Patricia Bruckenthal, whose husband, Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Bruckenthal, was killed in April 2004 by a suicide bomb attack off the coast of Iraq.
Each of these servicemembers received a military funeral and is interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
“When you think about Washington, D.C., it’s a region filled with monuments and memorials that tell the story of our nation’s history,” said Pete Geren, acting secretary of the Army. “Across the river, you have the Jefferson Memorial, the memorial that tells story of the godfather of the intellectual foundation of this country. Across the mall there is the Washington Monument. The father of our country – first in war, first in peace, a general and president.
“The Lincoln Memorial, the person who helped hold this country together when those among our brethren tried to tear it apart,” Geren said. “Across the mall is the memorial to Franklin Roosevelt who led this country through one of its greatest crises in history, and defeated the fascist powers that tried to destroy all that we stood for.
“Then you cross the river and you think, ‘Where does Arlington Cemetery fit in this tapestry of American history, this story of the life of this great experiment in democracy?’” he said. “Arlington Cemetery connects all of those memorials; it connects all of those monuments.
“Arlington Cemetery represents the soul of America,” Geren said.
“Where Valor Rests” includes text by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Rick Atkinson describing the cemetery’s nearly 150-year history, and photographs from every corner of the 624-acre grounds shot by some of the nation’s leading photographers and best military photojournalists.
At the debut here, enlarged photos portraying the cemetery during each of the four seasons were on display – a wide-angle picture of 4,500 visitors attending the Easter sunrise service; red, white and blue fireworks bursting above the cemetery’s tree line, splattering white headstones with luminescent hues; cold, dark marble markers peppered throughout patches of fallen leaves or blanketed by fluffy snow.
On the glossy pages of “Where Valor Rests,” servicemembers young and old are captured in rare, tender moments. A World War II veteran wipes away tears with his wrinkled hand during a dedication ceremony to his fallen brothers-in-arms. His tuft of silver-gray hair is covered by a hat stitched with the words, “Battle of the Bulge: Delaware Valley Chapter.”
“Visually, (Arlington National Cemetery) is a very striking place -- the rolling hills, the long lines of headstones. It creates something that at every hour of the day will look different,” said photographer David Burnett. Burnett’s images – taken with a Speed Graphic camera popular with press photographers in the 1940s during last year’s Memorial Day events, including the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns -- make up the book chapter titled “Ceremony.”
“There’s a lot of symbolism in what’s here that you’re always aware of and trying to incorporate that into some of your pictures,” he said. “There’s something here that you know is going to outlast all of us. There’s a permanence and strength to it.”
The image Burnett is most fond of features rocks lying atop a headstone’s ivory arch. The headstone marks the grave of a servicemember whose inscribed name is out of focus and illegible in the image.
“I was touched by the way the stones were put up here, which is a little symbol of remembrance,” he explained. “I didn’t want it to be just about the name. It’s one guy, but it could be anybody.”