Jack Walker Hall was my uncle. He was the oldest and last living brother of my mother. He died shortly after his 89th birthday last December in Gaithersburg, Md. I remember seeing him twice previously. The first time was while visiting my grandparents in Missouri in 1969. He was a big man with a ready smile and hearty laugh. While in the Korean War, he suffered frost bite and lost the toes on one foot, which he delighted in showing us. That was also the first time we met our cousins, Jeffery, Janice and Justin.
The second time I saw him was in 2016 when he decided to visit his sister in Siloam Springs. He actually drove with his wife from Maryland to Arkansas, much to the concern of his children. The visit was pleasant. His mental faculties were excellent. Much had happened between those two visits. Jack lost his eldest child, Jeffery, in 2005. Jack's first wife, June, died in 2009. He married a long-time friend the following year. He was retired from the Montgomery County (Md.) Police. His granddaughter now serves in the same department.
Last May, my brother and I took our mother to Maryland. Jack was to be interred at Arlington National Cemetery and the family wished us to attend the ceremony. Jack's wife, Virginia, made arrangements for us to stay the night at her retirement community. She was a gracious and dignified host. She and Mom shared stories about Jack. It was good to see them get along so well.
A number of family and friends were attending the service the next morning, so a chartered bus drove us to the cemetery. The trip took about an hour, giving us time to visit. Fifty-plus years had changed us in many ways. I regretted not staying in touch with my cousins.
Conversation grew softer, or stopped altogether, as we neared the cemetery. For most of us, it would be the first visit to Arlington and we were not sure what to expect. The first thing I noticed, as the bus slowly drove along the cemetery's roads, was the enormous number of white stones perfectly laid out on manicured lawns with enormous trees. I knew the cemetery was large. But the sheer number of people entombed on the grounds was staggering. Arlington is the final resting place for more than 400,000 people.
I was impressed by the beautiful landscaping. The quiet and solitude were striking as we walked to the registration building. We signed in and were shown to a comfortable waiting area. Several officers entered and addressed Jack's wife and children. I admired how kind and sympathetic they were while still maintaining a military demeanor. Their actions and words were genuine and earnest. I wondered how many times those statements would be repeated during the day. Arlington performs 20 to 40 memorials per day. There was no sense of hurried repetition of memorized words while they conversed.
We went back to the bus and drove a short way to the site of the memorial service. My uncle's cremains were slowly and respectfully removed from a vehicle by two servicemen. In perfect synchrony, they and the chaplain led us to the tented area and placed the vase on a table. Several yards away were seven personnel with rifles. A lone bugler stood apart on the other side of the gathering. The chaplain gave a eulogy that was heartfelt and contained details of my Uncle Jack's service. He stressed how the Korean War was often called "The Forgotten War" but emphasized that those who served, like my uncle, did so with honor. They would never be forgotten.
A volley of rifle fire commenced, followed by the bugler playing "Taps." The team leader then proceeded to fold the American flag in a slow, precise manner with much attention to detail. The leader presented the flag to Jack's wife and said a few words to her. Again, I was struck with the sincerity of words and actions that are likely repeated many times each day. It represents the bond between servicemen. The family's loss of a husband, father, and uncle was felt by those conducting the service as well. Jack was their brother.
So ended my third and final visit with my uncle: Jack Walker Hall, Sgt., U.S. Marine Corps.
-- Devin Houston is the president/CEO of Houston Enzymes. Send comments or questions to email@example.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.
Editorial on 08/07/2019
Print Headline: The Serenity of Arlington