Arlington National Cemetery This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

October 26, 2010
My friends and I walked through the cemetery, our faces as blank as each of the thousands of tombstones surrounding us. For weeks, our teachers had spoken of how important this cemetery was. But, after all the anticipation, our thoughts and ideas were few. Mesmerized by the endless sea of gravestones bobbing up and down on the green dunes of manicured lawns, my mind was empty. I saw thousands of white rocks, nothing more.

Our class continued to walk through paved paths that wove between the knolls of graves. We passed the Eternal Flame and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, all the while being solemnly reminded by our teachers of the great sacrifice these people made for our country. I still had no thoughts about the spectacle surrounding me. As we passed different sections of the cemetery, we were told that each held casualties from different conflicts. But, when I saw the white stones marking each of the 300,000 graves, they all seemed the same.

As our class finished touring the cemetery, I surveyed my feelings about what I was witnessing. I wasn't scared, proud, or surprised by our country's dead; I felt nothing. Then, as if by chance, I noticed a man kneeling by a group of graves. He was covered with Vietnam War pins, and he wore a veteran's hat. He looked at the stones so sadly, paying his respects to his fallen comrades.

This is not an unusual sight at Arlington, where groups of veterans roam the cemetery. This man, however, stood out from the rest, for he was missing a hand.
This image, a one-handed man solemnly remembering his friends, has stuck with me ever since that trip. He thought not of his own sacrifice, but of those his fellow soldiers made for their country. It transformed my impression of Arlington National Cemetery. However daunting the image of thousands of graves may be, this graveyard ­doesn't hold the statistics of war under its green carpet; Arlington National Cemetery holds people.

Each of these soldiers, from the Revolutionary War through today's conflicts, sacrificed their lives for a concept that has been the backbone of our country since its beginning: freedom. The people buried at Arlington dedicated their lives to freedom, ­accepting the consequences for their patriotic actions.

We take for granted our freedom, equality, and justice for all, yet we often neglect to remember what those before us sacrificed. Mothers losing sons, wives losing husbands, children losing fathers, friends losing friends; our country's existence is based on sacrifice.

During the rest of our trip to ­Washington, I began to pay attention to the people around us in the city, living their everyday lives. I realized that before the wars they fought in, the soldiers entombed in Arlington National Cemetery were just like us. They lived, laughed, and loved, only to ­sacrifice it all for America.

That one veteran made me realize the sacrifice that many Americans have made for the betterment of my life. I no longer underestimate the actions of our ancestors, for we wouldn't be here if it weren't for their sacrifices.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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