Yesterday morning I had the honor to take Physical Training (PT) and run in formation with the entire US Army Staff (Pentagon) at Fort Myer and through Arlington National Cemetery.
Every three months the Vice Chief of Staff (4-star general) conducts this early morning event. Arriving well before 0600 we formed up, over a thousand of us, on Fort Myer’s parade field. After conducting a regimen of calisthenic exercises we reformed into a huge column of three’s and marched off the parade field.
Once the column was on pavement we began a double-time four mile run meandering through Fort Myers and for ten minutes through Arlington, that final resting place for so many of our nation’s fallen heroes and comrades in arms.
While running in formation on Fort Myer we sang the normal cadence calls — Jodies, as they are commonly called. For me, participating in this type of PT had been awhile. In short order I was back in good form and enjoying the entire experience as I had always enjoyed it during the previous 26 years of being a soldier.
At the point that the Vice turned the formation into Arlington National Cemetery, all of the Jodies stopped and we ran in silence out of respect for those permanently at rest. The morning was perfect.
A cool, dry Autumn day. The leaves were still their stunning array of colors and painted a very serene setting. With Jodies silenced, the only cadence was the sound of one thousand left feet hitting the pavement in perfect unison and repeated by the right.
As we entered the cemetery, I blessed myself with the sign of the cross and spent 10 minutes both running in formation and in silent prayer remembering and honoring all of these wonderful people who made the final sacrifice for peace and freedom and for you and me. To say I was moved by this experience is an understatement.
Veterans Day is also a very special day. It is more than a day off from work. It is a day to reflect on the incredible blessings that being American allows. We may all be a little exasperated by vote recounts but the process separates this great democracy from those false elections we see in other less privileged nations.
Take time on Veterans Day, if only a moment or two, and remember those heroes who have given their lives so we can recount in a free and democratic way. Remember also those who continue to serve and stand ready to defend again.
We are Americans. Remember it.
Incline Village resident Michael Durand is a retired US Army Colonel, a Green Beret, a veteran of the Iraq War and served on active duty for thirty years. When he wrote this article in 2000, he was assigned for duty at the Pentagon (from Jan. 2000-Sept. 2002).