My visit to the Punchbowl took place on one of those days that one only sees in the tropics or semi-tropics. It was gray, almost dark, a driving rain moved in from the ocean. The storm passed in minutes leaving behind a brilliant rainbow which was burnt away by a strong tropical sun as the sky became a brilliant blue. A series of clouds drifted in to provide a mood appropriate drizzle for my visit as I looked out over row after row of the dead whose sacrifices helped make my privileges possible.
The Punchbowl does not have the same immediate emotional impact that one experiences at Arlington or Normandy. You do not see row after row of white grave markers. At first, it seems empty but then you see the small indentions in the grass. Each indention is a man or woman who answered the call to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” The indentions continue across the manicured lawn until you can no longer distinguish the marks in the grass. The earth pulls the dead back into her serene, anonymous embrace where they can rest in peace far from the horrific violence that ended so many of their lives.
Lady Columbia silently watches over the Punchbowl. She stands at the top of the staircase in the Court of Honor representing all grieving mothers who have given their sons and daughters to the nation. She stands on the bow of a ship holding a laurel branch.
The inscription below the statue is taken from Abraham Lincoln’s letter to Mrs. Bixby and reads:
THE SOLEMN PRIDE
THAT MUST BE YOURS
TO HAVE LAID
SO COSTLY A SACRIFICE
UPON THE ALTAR
Behind her is a small chapel where people of all faiths may visit for meditation, reflection or prayer. Around the top of the staircase behind Lady Columbia are murals outlining the battles in which the warriors have fallen over four wars in the Pacific.
Whenever I am near a national military cemetery such as the Punchbowl, I always make an effort to go pay my respects to the men and women who gave all. Visits to these sites should be required for all politicians who lightly suggest sending American troops in harm’s way. They should be forced to walk among the graves reading the names of the dead who reflect the ethnic and religious diversity of America. They should watch as the families come to visit. Unless you have no human feelings, the emotions that sweep over you as you watch a young mother and her children lovingly tend to the grave of a fallen warrior are overwhelming.
Some may find this post overly heavy, even depressing, but my experience was just the opposite. Visit one of the national cemeteries, find a quite spot, look around and reflect on what you see. You are surrounded by men and women that never knew you but who were willing to die to ensure your freedom. It is incredibly inspiring and uplifting. Their willingness to sacrifice is also a very precious resource which should be spent rarely, carefully, and only when absolutely necessary.