“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”  – John 15:13

As soon as we exited the metro station, we heard the roar of thousands of motorcycles revving up their engines or simply lining up in the South and North Parking lots of the non-descript Pentagon building. It was a pleasant low seventies day but the sky was grey with heavy clouds. We had checked the weather forecast and the report said, low percentage of precipitation. As usual, the forecasters were wrong when it comes to predicting the weather, much less the climate change.

Thousands of bikers on Harleys drove for days from places as far away as California, Puerto Rico, New York, Mississippi, Nevada, and Massachusetts. A Canadian group was resting in the green grass overlooking the South parking lot. Some bikers had served in the military, others have not, but they have come from far and wide to pay their respects to prisoners of war and those still missing in action. Each bike was proudly flying the American Stars and Stripes and the POW/MIA black and white flag. A sea of Old Glory bandana-clad Americans were waiting patiently by their bikes for the signal for the Rolling Thunder ride to begin their parade through Washington, D.C.

We got back on the metro for a short trip to Arlington National Cemetery. The mood was more somber there. No sooner had we left the escalator for the main entrance that a heavy downpour soaked everyone to the bone. Few people had come prepared with umbrellas or ponchos but everyone braved the driving rain. It was so wet, the guards had given up screening people at the visitor center and the volunteers fanned across the sections assigned to them.

In lot 33, we picked up our buckets of 133 roses, red, yellow, pink, white, and tangerine, equal to the number of tombs on each row. Big trucks were unloading thousands of buckets of fragrant roses and volunteers picked them up, one by one. I chose pink and red roses, and I stoically trudged through the rain and searing knee and leg pain to our assigned lot 66.

Our section was composed of many Americans who had served in WWI, WWII, Korean, and Vietnam wars. Some had died young, some on the first day of a war, some on the last day, and some died of old age. Entire families had lost their men, and a few lost the father and the son(s).

My husband David saluted each time as he placed a rose and thanked the person marked on the gravestone for his/her service. Strangely, we were instructed to not place flowers on the graves marked with a Star of David. I did not question why, I assumed it was a religious custom.

My tears were washed away by the deluge and I had a hard time holding the camera. Thousands and thousands of rows of white marble headstone of all the selfless Americans are just names to many, but they were highly decorated Heroes who served our country in so many God-forsaken places and died on foreign soil so that we may now live so well and free.

A woman’s name and her year of death was often inscribed on the back of the headstone, as the widow wished to be buried with her Hero husband and chose his gravesite as her eternal resting place.

Each rose, placed one foot in front of the headstone, was a tribute to soldiers who served our country their entire lives or who died liberating people who never thanked them and perhaps never truly appreciated their ultimate sacrifice.

My physical pain and discomfort was a small sacrifice when compared to what these heroic soldiers had done. I was there to thank them for giving me freedom from oppressive communism and the opportunity to thrive and live a good life.

There was a feeling of camaraderie all around us; entire families, parents, children, grandchildren, grandparents, or lone individuals were carrying around buckets of roses and placing them lovingly one by one at each grave, thanking that person for their service and sacrifice.

People had a mixture of sadness and joy on their faces as they were waiting at the metro station; everyone was soaked and shivering but nobody complained. I could only imagine the marches our soldiers had made through jungles, strange territories, in rain, sunshine, and snow, and how many had died fighting while exposed to the harsh elements.

May the Memory Be Eternal for all the selfless men and women, our true Heroes, who gave their lives for our freedom and comfort!

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