Guest Authors

Friday Morning at the Pentagon

Published: 27 November 2009

McClatchy  Newspapers

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 Lt. Col. Robert  Bateman, who recently completed a yearlong tour  of duty in Iraq and is now back at the  Pentagon.

Here's  Lt. Col. 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.

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 - 20,  25, 30....  Fifty-three legs come with them,  and perhaps only 52 hands or arms, but down this  hall came 30 solid hearts.

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  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?

The  media haven't yet told the  story."

Division Chief for ODO
HQDA, G3/5/7


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