Monday, May 18, 2009

Friday Mornings At The Pentagon

Let us salute them every Friday morning from wherever we are.
"Still Serving God and America"


Joe Galloway - Co-author of "We Were
Soldiers Once..... And Young"

McClatchy Newspapers

Over the last 12 months, 1,042 soldiers, Marines, sailors and Air Force
personnel have given their lives in the terrible duty that is war.
Thousands more have come home on stretchers, horribly wounded and
facing months or years in military hospitals.

This week, I'm turning my space over to a good friend and former
roommate, Army Lt. Col. Robert Bateman, who recently completed a year
long tour of duty in Iraq and is now back at the Pentagon.

Here's Lt. Col. Bateman's account of a little-known ceremony that fills
the halls of the Army corridor of the Pentagon with cheers, applause
and many tears every Friday morning. It first appeared on May 17 on
the Weblog of media critic and pundit Eric Alterman at the Media
Matters for America Website.

"It is 110 yards from the "E" ring to the "A" ring of the Pentagon.
This section of the Pentagon is newly renovated; the floors shine, the
hallway is broad, and the lighting is bright. At this instant the
entire length of the corridor is packed with officers, a few sergeants
and some civilians, all crammed tightly three and four deep against the
walls. There are thousands here.

This hallway, more than any other, is the Army' hallway.
The G3 offices line one side, G2 the other, G8 is around the corner.
All Army. Moderate conversations flow in a low buzz. Friends who may
not have seen each other for a few weeks, or a few years, spot each
other, cross the way and renew their friendships.

Everyone shifts to ensure an open path remains down the center. The air
conditioning system was not designed for this press of bodies in this
area. The temperature is rising already. Nobody cares.10:36
hours: The clapping starts at the E-Ring. That is the outer most of
the five rings of the Pentagon and it is closest to the entrance to the
building.. This clapping is low, sustained, hearty. It is applause with
a deep emotion behind it as it moves forward in a wave down the length
of the hallway.

A steady rolling wave of sound it is, moving at the pace of the soldier
in the wheelchair who marks the forward edge with his presence. He is
the first. He is missing the greater part of one leg, and some of his
wounds are still suppurating.. By his age I expect that he is a
private, or perhaps a private first class.

Captains, majors, lieutenant colonels and colonels meet his gaze and
nod as they applaud, soldier to soldier. Three years ago when I
described one of these events, those lining the hallways were somewhat
different. The applause a little wilder, perhaps in private guilt for
not having shared in the burden. Yet.

Now almost everyone lining the hallway is, like the man in the
wheelchair, also a combat veteran. This steadies the applause, but I
think deepens the sentiment. We have all been there now. The soldier's
chair is pushed by, I believe, a full colonel. Behind him, and
stretching the length from Rings E to A, come more of his peers, each
private, corporal, or sergeant assisted as need be by a field grade

11:00 hours: Twenty-four minutes of steady applause. My hands hurt, and
I laugh to myself at how stupid that sounds in my own head. My hands
hurt.. Please! Shut up and clap. For twenty-four minutes, soldier after
soldier has come down this hallway - 20, 25, 30. Fifty-three legs come
with them, and perhaps only 52 hands or arms, but down this hall came
30 solid hearts.

They pass down this corridor of officers and applause, and then meet
for a private lunch, at which they are the guests of honor, hosted by
the generals. Some are wheeled along. Some insist upon getting out of
their chairs, to march as best they can with their chin held up, down
this hallway, through this most unique audience. Some are catching
handshakes and smiling like a politician at a Fourth of July parade.
More than a couple of them seem amazed and are smiling shyly.

There are families with them as well: the 18-year-old war-bride
pushing her 19-year-old husband's wheelchair and not quite
understanding why her husband is so affected by this, the boy she grew
up with, now a man, who had never shed a tear is crying; the older
immigrant Latino parents who have, perhaps more than their wounded
mid-20s son, an appreciation for the emotion given on their son's
behalf. No man in that hallway, walking or clapping, is ashamed by the
silent tears on more than a few cheeks.
An Airborne Ranger wipes his eyes only to better see. A couple of the
officers in this crowd have themselves been a part of this parade in
the past.

These are our men, broken in body they may be, but they are our
brothers, and we welcome them home. This parade has gone on, every
single Friday, all year long, for more than four years.

Did you know that? The media hasn't yet told the story. And probably
never will.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
See more ways you can support our troops at our Squidoo Lens at: Support Our Troops

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