On Wednesday, I was across the Potomac River in Arlington National Cemetery with Kathleen interring her World War II and Korean War father–along with her mother Mary Lou–where he, Robert Emmett Cunningham, wanted very much to be.
Like Mount Rushmore and the Liberty Bell and a few other iconic American places (I suppose we have to throw in the U.S. Capitol and the White House), Arlington is this country’s sacred ground. It’s where we honor those who’ve served this country and, in so many cases, died doing it. In the words of the Marine Corps Hymn: fighting our country’s battles in the air, on land and sea, from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.
Boy, do those words get to your heart when you stand out there, as we did yesterday, with all those young Marines marching in slow drill, the band playing, the caisson pulled along by the four white horses, the music of the Navy and Marine Corps filling the spring air.
I was so very proud of Kathleen for how she led her family out there at Arlington Cemetery and so grateful to the young men in the Marine unit who performed the honors with such excellence and precision and deep respect.
I will never forget the words spoken to Kathleen as she sat there with her brothers and sisters, her being the oldest. “Semper Fidelis,” the young man said as he kneeled before her, taking off his white glove to express the personal commitment held true through all the years.
Bob Cunningham was saluted with the three guns yesterday. His real salute was the good memories he carried with him with real pride from his days as a young enlisted sailor based in places like New Caledonia and Leyte Gulf, when he went up into the hills of an enemy-held island to call in gunfire from the ships.
“Were you ever scared?” I once asked him.
“No,” my father-in-law said without a beat. “I had a hell of a time!”
We and our children all visited him on his last weekend. He was in good spirits. Our kids Michael, Thomas, and Caroline were wonderful with him and he with them, cracking jokes right to the end.
Robert Emmett Cunningham of Los Altos California, via New Caledonia and Leyte Gulf, now with his beloved Mary Lou at Arlington Cemetery.