Three years ago this coming January, I visited Arlington National Cemetery for my second time. I had been there before, but as a kid, as a tourist, sight seeing around the nation's capital. Sadly, the purpose of this visit was very different than my first.
Four months earlier a good friend of mine was killed in Afghanistan while serving in the Marines and weeks later he was laid to rest at our nation's most sacred cemetery. The idea that one of my childhood friends was buried on these grounds was, frankly, almost as unbelievable as the fact that he was gone.
I remember thinking as a kid that walking around Arlington felt more like being in a museum and less like an actual cemetery. Crowds of tourists were wandering about, enjoying the warm D.C. summer afternoon. Our country wasn't at war. Young soldiers weren't being buried. I didn't know anyone that was laid to rest there, and I didn't think I ever would. On this overcast morning in January 2009 though, the grounds were calm, quiet and bitterly cold. There were no tourists, just the cemetery crew prepping new gravesites.
Shortly after I arrived at his head stone, a full military funeral procession began for another young soldier at the end of his row. I watched in silence from a distance with watery eyes.
As I stood there and watched I thought of Nic but also of my grandfather, who had served in WWII. As fate would have it, on my drive to Arlington that morning I received a call from my dad letting me know that his father had just passed away the night before. It was an overwhelming and surreal day indeed; a day I wouldn't soon forget.
I've been wanting to post these photos for quite some time, but was waiting for the right moment. With Veteran's Day this weekend and Nic's birthday today, I, like many other friend's of Nic, couldn't help but have him on my mind. This moment feels right.