We finally made it into the American Cemetery—making sure we were there LONG before 5pm so it was open. One of my favorite places in Washington, D.C. is Arlington Cemetery and the American Cemetery here in Manila is very similar. The grounds are manicured, beautiful and peaceful. As you drive through the gates you are greeted by a long drive flanked on both sides by large trimmed trees and at the end is a large off-white monument dedicated to those who died fighting here.
We parked and read the lone information sign detailing that there are 16,500 United States and Filipino soldiers buried here with 32,000 other names listed on the walls of the monument of soldiers who were killed in battle, but bodies were unrecovered.
As we walked the 1 mile to the monument we passed several rows of white marble crosses geometrically lined up to form perfect patterns. The pristine white is stunning against the lush green grass and beautiful tropical flower beds. I remember being younger and visiting Arlington Cemetery and loved to walk along the path and see how the patterns of the stones changed depending on your perspective. Today, I found myself doing it again. Then it struck me, that although this Cemetery is beautiful and the headstones are engaging to see, each one of them represents a person. A person that was once living; someone with a name; a family; parents; dreams; ambitions; and a home—someone with a story.
When that hit me, the beautiful area became more somber. I thought about the fact that most of them died in the prime of life, never making it to even as old as I am now. Due to their sacrifices, many young women at home became widows and single mothers instantly. How many of them thought that they would spend the rest of their lives in a manicured, walled cemetery in the Pacific when they joined the military? What was their story? Who was left behind to mourn for them when they did not return at the end of the war?
When we finally arrived at the monument, it was larger than it looked from the other end of the road. It is a large elliptical grass area about the size of a soccer field with two pillared walk ways enclosing it. It has the appearance of a modern Roman monument. Each pillar, really more of a wall, has thousands of names of those that died in combat. Again, I wondered about each name and who they were. What stories would they tell me if they were standing next to me?
At the ends of each walk way are rooms with map murals made of tiny tiles representing WWII and how the fighting happened. At first it is awe inspiring to just look at the mural and wonder who had the tedious job of creating it. Then it hits that the entire world was fighting for something they believed in, standing up for what they believed was right.
That is when the unknown stories from the writing on the walls began to flow into my own story. Here I stood, in Manila Philippines, as a free citizen of the United States in a country with hundreds of years of history with the U.S. and these people, brave soldiers, fought so I could stand here and feel completely safe doing so. Then I thought about all the other cemeteries all over the world that look similar to this one: Punchbowl in Hawaii, France, Papua New Guinea, Arlington, etc. Not to mention all the Cemeteries in other countries for their dead and victims of war.
How easy it is to forget—Easy to forget those that sacrificed in the past and those who are currently sacrificing now. Then I looked over and saw the lone American flag waving in the center of the monument and was proud of the symbol it represents: The people, the leaders, the soldiers, the ideals. Are we a perfect country? No, we aren’t, but I would like to hope we are trying; Trying to stand with all those who lay in premature graves in manicured cemeteries all over the world.
As we drove around one last time I could not help but think of the names and all they symbolize. Then I saw one last word written on the wall of the building being constructed right outside the fence of the Cemetery. Someone had written the word, “PAIN” on one window. Do we know the pain of all those around us? Regardless of title, race, nationality, or religion? Maybe we need to look again at the beauty of the patterns and reread the writing on the wall with a different perspective.