A re-telling: ‘Fridays at the Pentagon’

image002 (3)I came to be familiar with the writings of Lt. Col. Robert Bateman, in the early days of the Iraq war via Eric Alterman’s blog  Altercation, then housed at Media Matters, where Bateman was a frequent contributor and where this story first appeared. I posted it in 2012. So here again – for Memorial Day 2014 – as Eric used to say: “here’s Bateman”:

“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. 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 outermost 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 officer.

“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.’ Christ. 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.”

 

13 responses to “A re-telling: ‘Fridays at the Pentagon’

  1. The history of the United States is replete with wars, from the rag-tag volunteer army and navy of the Revolution to the proud and finely-equipped and trained professionals that fight for us today. I submit that the best way to honor our military traditions, veterans, and those currently serving, is to do everything we can to ensure their sacrifices are not in vain, and that their commitment to combat will not be done lightly but always be the last resort.

    This is not easy, and the trend since World War II has diverged from such a goal. As citizens, we have a responsibility to support and elect leaders who resist expedient resort to violence in favor of long-term hard work and who have core values and the long-term vision to resist the continuous demagoguery and false patriotism that too often characterizes our messy politics.

    I urge one and all to vote in every election, not just nationally, and to do so thoughtfully with this in mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jim – I think to an extent we should also extend that respect and gratitude to many of the non-military personnel who commit themselves to work on behalf of their nation. It’s not the same thing at all – they’re not putting their very lives at risk – but they are so often maligned simply because they are ‘government’ – which of course the military is as well. I think of the people at the CDC as just one example. Of course these agencies are also full of people for whom it’s just a job. But there are legions who work because they care about us and our future and want to make a contribution.

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      • I completely agree, Moe. To serve government is to serve the common and collective interest, and whether such service invites some ill-defined scope of physical danger is an abstract factor in why most people choose their vocations. It bears mentioning as well, I think, that many civilian jobs in government also require personal sacrifice and danger. Some such are the FBI, the CIA, the PHS and the State Department’s foreign service. Thanks for this important amendment.

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  2. Law Enforcement is in MOST cases NOT being a warrior going to war….

    Cop’s and solider may have similar experiences but a cop CAN go home almost every night…..The serve to Protect….

    Solider’s go to War…..

    They go in harms way, away from home….Far away….

    Our soldiers volunteer ….

    We may NOT like that our leaders SEND them to war…..
    But …..

    Good Bless them……

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  3. I mean in NO way to lower respect against the Law Enforcement troops….

    Who do a DAMN good job everyday and come when we need their help….

    And yes there are jobs that go in harms way….
    But those are NOT warriors…..
    There IS a difference….

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    • james, I don’t disagree with you and I don’t think Jim does either. Warriors are in a class by themselves. But since they volunteer out of a desire to serve their country, that reminds me that others, non military, enter their professions for the same reason.

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      • Right, Moe. While it’s usually dangerous to generalize, I do believe that most people who accept government service as a career are motivated, at least in part, by a sense of idealism. After all, it’s not about making widgets, it’s about making society function better. Even IRS agents. Government couldn’t function without them.

        The same applies to military service. There are more people in support jobs than on the front lines and it’s a mistake to call every military person a “hero”. The heroes are people like Navy SEALs who are tested in combat and prove themselves there.

        Young people usually enter military service for travel and adventure, and with a sense they’re ten feet tall and bullet-proof. But, after a time, in my experience, those who stay with it become motivated by a sense of duty. Even support personnel deserve respect for that, especially when they endure hardship and extended family separations in order to do so.

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  4. True that…….

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  5. Leaving aside any comments on civil service vs military service and the motives of the people who chose that as they’re rentmaker, as these vets are all ALIVE, this post is better suited for Veterans Day than Memorial Day.

    Sorry, the confusion and conflation of those to holidays is a pet peeve of mine.

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    • Right you are jonolan – back when we called it ‘Decoration Day’ I never got confused since the name immediately invoked an image of placing flowers or flags or something on graves.

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