There was only a huge tree and several feet between the two of us and Eric Herzberg's mother. We were curious about what she was doing but wanted to remain respectful, so we kept to the walkway and didn't let on that we were watching and feeling her pain. For several minutes, we successfully fought the unrelenting urge to run up and console her – to tell her how shitty we still feel about what happened. Unable to trust our willpower any longer, we resolved to walk away.
We walked backwards, staring silently, until she was merely a dot in the distance.
We've been to Washington D.C. many times and have wanted to make it here for a few years now. Because it's not something that's showcased, like so many monuments and memorials, it's easy to overlook. Honestly, it's rarely even talked about.
It's Section 60, and we recommend you check it out.
In a way-out-of-the-way part of Arlington Cemetery, you'll find Section 60 – an area that serves as a reminder of the human toll exacted by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Millions of people visit Arlington Cemetery each year to admire its serene setting and to honor those that have served our country. Unfortunately, most people who visit don't make it over to Section 60. It's off the beaten path and not marketed. We've heard – more than once – that those in power want to focus visitors' attention on wars/loss in the distant past. It's better to keep the reality of these things blurry and ambiguous, so the theory goes.
Arlington Cemetery came to life when, at the end of our visit, we made our way to Section 60. It made us feel something profound. Because most of the burials in this area are relatively recent, it feels more personal – lots of flowers, notes and pictures surround the graves. Not to mention the fact that, quite regularly, many of the sites are being prepped for burial.
In the short time we were there, we saw a mother and her two young kids visiting their husband/dad. We also witnessed three buddies – all in their early twenties – visiting the gravesite of a friend who died in Afghanistan. They hung out, smoked and enjoyed the emerging afternoon sunshine.
It was seeing Eric Herzberg's mother, though, that hit it all home for us. We don't know her personally. We were only able to sleuth the details out my meshing the information from the mini-tribute on the back of her car with the gravesite directory that stands nearby. According to the records, Eric died in 2006. He was only 20. Judging by the way things looked, his mother visits frequently and finds comfort in a sort of ritual – kneeling on the ground, tidying things up, fiddling purposefully with different items.
Parents aren't supposed to lose kids. But it happens. War happens.
We wanted to tell her that we appreciate her sacrifice, that we can understand that it must be hell, that we haven't forgotten what went on – and continues – over there on the other end of the world.
But we couldn't… it wouldn't have been appropriate in that moment.
But what we can do is show respect by getting to Section 60 every time we are in the area. Better yet, we can remember with more regularity the conflicts that happen around the world every day and the people who lose their lives because of it.
Heading to Washington DC? Make your visit to Arlington Cemetery a personal one. Go to Section 60. It will change you.