Friday Mornings at the Pentagon
I have not had an occasion to be in the Pentagon since 9/11/01 when that awful terrorist attack occurred. On board that American Airlines flight which struck the Pentagon was my fellow Navy Admiral, Wilson Flagg and his wife. The preceding weekend they had been at the Naval Academy in Annapolis celebrating his Class of 1961’s 40th Reunion; the Flaggs were on that flight to visit grandchildren in California. Bud Flagg was a decorated combat Naval Aviator in Viet Nam, and had recently retired from his second career as a Captain for American Airlines.
Since then, we as a nation have initiated a war on global terrorism. Like all wars, it requires a total commitment of some to ensure the freedoms of all others. That reminder becomes especially strong as we approach Veterans Day, because it is our nation’s Veterans and their families who make that solemn commitment of national service so the others of our nation can live in freedom.
The Pentagon story I have attached is a by-product of war, i.e. honoring those few who are making the sacrifices for the rest of us. It recalls
for me the cavernous hallways of the Pentagon, where I pursued some of my military career at various times spanning more than 30 years. I have
been down the hall described here,…as well as the spaces where Bud Flagg met his death on 9/11/01. Some of history’s memories can be triumphant
in historic places, but this story reminds us that some of those memories are quite painful indeed. Many of those memories involve the ultimate
sacrifices of some of us; that is just the way it is....
Cheers on Corridor Three
by LTC Bob Bateman
10:30 hours (local EST), Friday, 11 May 2007
Over the last 12 months, 1,042 soldiers, Marines, sailors and Air Force personnel have given their lives in the terrible duty that is war. Thousands more have come home on stretchers, horribly wounded and facing months or years in military hospitals.
This week, I'm turning my space over to a good friend and former roommate, Army LTC Robert Bateman, who recently completed a yearlong tour of duty in Iraq and is now back at the Pentagon.
Here's LTC Bateman's account of a little-known ceremony that fills the halls of the Army corridor of the Pentagon with cheers, applause and many tears every Friday morning. It first appeared on May 17 on the Weblog of media critic and pundit Eric Alterman at the Media Matters for America Website.
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 friendships.
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"! Please! Shut up and clap. For twenty-four minutes, soldier after soldier has come down this hallway - only 30 or 40 legs come with them, and perhaps only 30 or 40 hands or arms, but down this hall came 30 solid hearts. There should have been 60 legs, 60 arms and 60 hands. Some were left in Iraq or Afghanistan.
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 not in spirit. 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.
Did you know that?
GOD BLESSES AMERICA! GOD BLESSES OUR TROOPS!
/s/ LeRoy Collins, Jr.