Picture 7

Disclaimer: The only thing not mine is Arlington National Cemetery. That belongs to all Americans.

Emmylou Harris' song, "Bang the Drum Slowly," can be found on her "Red Dirt Girl" album.

Bang the Drum Slowly



"Where Valor Proudly Sleeps." Those words from Arlington National Cemetery ran through Kathleen's mind as she put her pass back into her purse and drove slowly to Section 60, dubbed "the saddest acre in America," where U.S. military personnel killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are buried. She also thought of a few lines of Emmylou Harris' song, "Bang The Drum Slowly":

Bang the drum slowly, I'll speak of things holy

Above and below me,

World without end.

Yes, Karen thought. Those are words that should be engraved on a memorial somewhere in Section 60. She could see a sort of shining eternity in them.

The mid-afternoon sunshine sparkled on row after row of new bright white headstones. Finally, Kathleen parked under the shade of an overhanging tree and just sat for a few minutes, thinking about her mother and everyone else buried in that hallowed ground. The majority served more than 20 years in the U.S. armed forces or died in active combat, giving up themselves to save others. Kathleen wouldn't have been surprised if all 50 states had honored dead buried there, and she was especially bittersweetly proud of those from her own home state.

She got out of her car and carefully picked her way over the hallowed ground to the gravesite of Irene Kathleen Callahan, her mother, and knelt. She ran her hand tenderly over the name carved into the stone as tears flooded her eyes.

"Hi, mom. Sorry it's been a while, but I've been really angry at you. I mean, you were retired from the military already, had a great job with a six-figure salary, and you could've lived comfortably for the rest of your life, but you gave all that up to go back. On top of it all, you got yourself killed. You always thought there was plenty of time to teach me the finer points of being a woman, but no, mom. Time ran out too soon for us."

Kathleen paused as she wept a little. "I miss you like hell!" She cried harder, and when she calmed down, she finished what she needed to say. "It's okay now. I'm not mad at you anymore. The truth is just a little sadder, though. I realize now that you never belonged to Dad and me. You always belonged to your strong sense of ideals and your stronger sense of duty. Now, you belong to every American, for them to honor. You did a good job, mom. Too bad things had to end this way."

Kathleen stood up and bowed her head in a long silent prayer. When she was done, she noticed a middle age lady with a bouquet of flowers walk past the grave and note her mother's name. She halted and turned to Kathleen.

"Excuse me," said the lady. "Is that a relative?"

"My mom."

"Oh, my!" she exclaimed, a little excited. "She was my son's commander. If you remember, they died together, saving four others in their group."

"Yes. My condolences."

"I'm sorry about your mother, too." The middle-aged lady looked at the flowers in her hand and then back at Kathleen. "My name's Marcy, by the way." The ladies shook hands. "Could I impose on you? I mean, I'd like to put these on my son's grave, but if you could wait, would you come have a cup of coffee with me? My son mentioned your mother in his letters and I always wondered about her. I'm afraid I'm kind of nosey."

"It's okay," Kathleen said. "She might've mentioned your son to me." She paused, thinking. "You know, I think I could go for a cup of coffee."

Kathleen waited until Marcy was done with her visit, and they walked side-by-side through the sacred peace of Arlington.


Have you thanked your Bard today?  Please Feed The Bard.

Back to the Challenge

Back to the Academy