A few weeks ago we were in DC for a wedding (which will be taking over the blog this week, don’t you worry). God’s timing never ceases to amaze me. I find myself talking about “coincidences” so often on this blog, but there is no denying that it is God blessing us with these memories and moments that are so special. I’ll get to the timing part here in a minute. Arlington National Cemetery has become a pretty standard stop for us. Sometimes we stay for the afternoon, and sometimes it’s just a quick stop to leave a few flowers. So when we were already in DC for a wedding, we made some time for our usual stop. I share a lot about my husband’s military experience on this blog. After all, the name of the blog is The Martins and the Marines. When he first joined the Marine Corps he was a mortar man, aka infantry, aka boots on the ground. (Trust me, I had no idea what a mortar man was when he first joined the Marine Corps either). He deployed twice to Afghanistan with 2nd Battalion 8th Marines. Neither deployment was easy, but his first deployment was a whole lot less easy. These guys were so young and they were thrown so harshly into the reality of war. It certainly wasn’t the peacetime Marine Corps we know right now. During his first deployment, his particular unit lost eight Marines, and others lost so many more.
The weekend we chose to visit Arlington National Cemetery was a special one for a few reasons. I talk about this special family allllll the time on the blog. It may as well be their blog. For those of you who may be new, we met when our boys first graduated boot camp and were sent to the same unit. After a season of training, they were shipped off to Afghanistan for that first deployment. A few of us wives got in touch and built a support system to help get each other through. We were barely married and now our husbands were gone and we had no idea how to navigate military life, other than that you better not lose the sacred military ID card. It was a situation none of our non-military friends understood, and we were all trying to figure out the milso (military spouse) thing together. About halfway through the deployment, this guy in the green shirt (Matt) was in a vehicle that was, for lack of better words, blown up by an IED.
That was it. That guy is definitely not him, because by this point he’d been cas-evaced out (military lingo for casualty evacuation, aka flown to a hospital on a helicopter).
This military life has taught me a whole slew of things, and one of those things is an Alive Day. It’s a birthday-esque celebration for those Marines that came so close to not coming home. A day to celebrate the fact that they DID come home, most of them with some kind of injury leaving them not quite the same. In the case of Matt, it was a broken back. While he looks totally normal in pictures, most people don’t know that he’s got a pretty serious back injury that will affect him the rest of his life. Most of this is their story to tell, but no matter how much I beg, Lindsay won’t jump on the milso mommy blog bandwagon. So I’m telling a little of it with their permission because we’ve been so blessed to be there for a little bit of their story. After a l.o.n.g. recovery process, Matt was awarded a Purple Heart for the injuries sustained as a result of the IED, and eventually medically retired from the Marine Corps. But you better believe he was there – back and neck braces and all – for Steve and the rest of their unit to return to American soil from that deployment. I tell you all that because this weekend was MATT’S ALIVE DAY! So many answered prayers wrapped up in that one day, a day that could have had such a different outcome. We had another close friend in the vehicle that day… similar injuries… similar longterm prognosis… also a Purple Heart recipient. Of all the weekends for us to be visiting Arlington together, it was the anniversary of Matt’s Alive Day. It was such an honor to spend it with them. Lindsay actually texted me the morning of the wedding to remind me, and in all the craziness of the wedding, I forgot. I was sitting in the salon chair getting my hair done and when I read that text and remembered, I, of course, started crying. That hairdresser probably thought I was nuts, but I couldn’t help it! This family has truly become some of our dearest friends and we can’t imagine doing life without them. We’ve been through so much good, also some hard times together, and they are like family now.
While Wounded Warriors like Matt are celebrating their Alive Days, there are some that weren’t so lucky. Only two days after Matt’s Alive Day is just two days before the anniversary of Sgt. Joseph Garrison’s death. Read about his story here. While he’s buried in Pennsylvania, some of their other comrades are buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Like Staff Sgt. Malachowski, a name that will not be forgotten in either of our households.
The generation of American troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan are buried in Section 60. It’s not in the typical tourist route, because it’s a little out of the way, but if you’re visiting DC and you’re in the cemetery, especially if you’re one of our military friends, I encourage you to take the short walk and pay respect to the fallen heroes of our generation. All of you post-college young adults, a lot of the people buried here are our peers. Imagine forgoing the college route to join the military and serve our country. And then deploying to a third world country, most of these men and women multiple times, saying goodbye to their families, thinking they would see them seven months, ten months, a year later. Making these sacrifices voluntarily, ready and willing to die to protect the freedoms that we enjoy everyday.
I write about a whole lot of things on this blog, mostly friends and family and our day-to-day life. I’ve heard feedback of all kinds, but a lot of it centers around how “perfect” our military life is. We are so, truly blessed. The paychecks might not be heavy, but we are so rich in our family and our beautiful home on base, the experiences the military has given us, and most of all, the people we have met. But it’s not to say this lifestyle doesn’t come without sacrifices. It isn’t all sunshine and commissary shopping. Sometimes we all need to take a day to reflect on the sacrifices of those men and women who volunteered to serve this beautiful country, knowing the risks, and going anyway so you and I didn’t have to. So I could sit in that air-conditioned, high-tech classroom, typing notes away on my laptop and getting a college degree, on that picturesque New England college campus, while these guys sweat, bled, and literally took bullets for each other in the deserts of the Middle East without so much as a cell phone to call their families. I am so thankful for people like my husband, and Matt, and especially Sgt. Joseph Garrison and Staff Sgt. Malachowki. I write about them, among all of our happy and joyful news, because they need to be remembered.
And so we spent our day remembering these heroes.
The boys honored their fallen, told their war stories, and ensued in the usual banter about who is more “legit.” The one-deployment retired Purple Heart recipient, or the three-deployment still-active-duty bomb tech. Three years and counting and still no resolution, ha! I personally think they’re both pretty legit.
We had no kids (None! It was like a flashback to our friendship five years ago!). With no toddler meltdowns or impending naptimes, we had some extra time, so we continued our tour.
We were also visiting Arlington National Cemetery a week after Memorial Day, something I would have been honored to see. For this holiday, the cemetery places an American flag in the ground in front of every headstone. I’ve personally never seen it, but it’s on the bucket list.
We made a walk up the hill to see the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
We hit up Trip Advisor for a good local place to eat, and wouldn’t you know it, we found this gem. Not the kind of place you walk in at lunch time and think they’re going to ask if you have reservations, and then look around at all the tables marked reserved. This place is a popular little whole in the wall, and we just thought it’s funny that it was named Quarterdeck Restaurant. So fitting for our military-motivated day.
Next up… the Marine Corps Monument! This monument is in Arlington, on the far side of the cemetery. A lot of people don’t know about it or skip it since it’s not in the mix of all the usual museums, but it’s definitely worth a visit.
I can truly say these last six crazy years were so much better having this girl by my side.
We love you guys!
By the end of the visit, we laughed about how “motivated” our day was, but it was oh-so-fitting for some of our most dear military friends. The kind of friends who drive 16 hours to come to your kid’s birthday party. The kind of open their homes to us over and over and we love like family. Speaking of, they’re headed our way for Mitchell’s birthday party THIS WEEKEND! And real quick, while I’m on the topic of things to visit in DC… (and for anyone who is still reading this, ha!), two museums we are chomping at the bit to visit. The Marine Corps Museum is opening a whole new section, which is DOUBLING the size of the current museum, all about the War on Terror. The very stuff these guys were doing. Pretty cool. And last, but not least, next fall The Museum of the Bible is opening in DC. Once these are both open, you can bet we will be spending a long weekend in DC, with a day at each of them. I never thought I’d find myself becoming such a museum nerd, but here I am. I also never thought I’d see myself counting days to the weekend so diligently but TWO MORE WORK DAYS until it’s the weekend!