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Nov 11th, 2008

TODAY’s “American Story with Bob Dotson” comes from Arlington National Cemetery, where mothers remember their veteran sons who lost their lives in combat.

At Arlington, Soldiers’ Mothers Unite in Grief


Grief unites fallen soldiers’ mothers (NBC Today, Nov. 11, 2008) — TODAY’s “American Story With Bob Dotson” comes from Arlington National Cemetery, where mothers remember their veteran sons who lost their lives in combat. (04:35)

By Bob Dotson
November 7, 2008


Xiamara Mena stands amid an army of tombstones. She has come here to begin the long, slow business of learning how to live alone. Her son, Army Cpl. Andy Anderson, is buried here among our heroes in Arlington National Cemetery. He was killed in Iraq two years ago.

“The second year is pretty hard,” Xiamara sighs, wiping away a tear. Now the Army Reserve is sending Andy’s twin brothers — Rafael and Randall — to Afghanistan.

Killed on Mother’s Day

Other mothers have also come to visit their sons’ graves this day. Beth Belle kisses a nearby headstone, then offers a hug. The embrace says silently what no one can put into words.

Beth was planning her boy’s homecoming party from Afghanistan when Lance Cpl. Nicholas Kirven was killed, on Mother’s Day. He so loved the Marines that Beth and her husband allowed him to enlist at 17.

“He was always a peacemaker,” Beth says. The kind of kid who, when he touched someone’s life, they shined. In Afghanistan, the infantry rifleman passed out Beanie Babies and rebuilt houses before he died chasing insurgents into a cave. That was three and a half years ago. …

Paula Davis rises from her son’s grave and joins Xiamara and Beth. She, too, understands the public smiles and private tears of a mother who has lost a child. A mortar shell took her only son, Army Pfc. Justin Davis. …

Justin’s heroes were God, Martin Luther King and Bruce Lee. He loved kung fu movies, even shot one of his own — on the front lines in Afghanistan. …

Letters to a lost son

A quiet scene is playing near these three women. The men of Marine Lance Cpl. Eric Herzberg’s fire team are gathering at his grave. They were sent back to Iraq the day before his memorial service. On the second anniversary of his death, the buddies are finally home to say goodbye.

Eric’s mom whispers a prayer: “When we are weary and in need of strength …”

“We remember them,” the Marines respond.

Gina Barnhurst chokes back a sob and reads passionately, “They are a part of us.” Her son’s story ended at age 20. Gina still writes him letters that are arrows to her heart. …

Gina hung 22 stars in a tree near Eric’s grave to mark what would have been his 22nd birthday. “You have this emptiness you cannot fill. And I just felt like I had to be where he is,” she explains. …

A quarter plus a penny

Eric died October 21, 2006, while on patrol in Iraq. A sniper shot him through the neck. Like the others, he was buried in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery. Death there is too fresh for the simple stones that mark the resting place.

People leave all sorts of things. One mother, who does not live near the cemetery, asked Beth to take 26 cents to her son’s grave. “Since he was a little boy, she never ended a letter without ‘… a quarter for a call, a penny for your thoughts, and all your momma’s love.’ ”

The mothers don’t talk about visiting their sons’ graves; they simply visit their sons, watching over them, just as they did on playgrounds long ago. Pride, anger and grief flash across Gina’s face. “You feel like you should’ve just jumped across the ocean and been there to hold them that last minute.” …

The first grave in Arlington National Cemetery was dug to remind a Civil War general about war’s human toll. Eighteen hundred men rest forever in Robert E. Lee’s rose garden. Now there are as many as 30 burials a day. Nearly one in 10 who died fighting in Iraq or and Afghanistan lie in Arlington Cemetery, the highest percentage from any war. There are more than 500 sons and daughters, fathers and wives in Section 60.

Beth Belle’s son, Nicholas, was the first to be buried in a brand-new row of graves. That was three years ago. Now five more stretch beyond his headstone. She drops to her knees one last time before leaving him, hugging his headstone, pressing her cheek against his name.

According to the latest figures, Oct. 25, 2008, approximately 340,000 people are buried at Arlington National Cemetery. In the section set aside for casualties from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, 526 are buried, roughly 10 percent of the casualties:

  • 372 from the Army
  • 111 from the Marines
  • 27 from the Air Force
  • 15 from the Navy
  • 1 from the Coast Guard

To learn more about Arlington National Cemetery, click here.

Remember Their Sacrifice

Remember Their Sacrifice

Fighting Saints March in 2008 Veterans Day Parade

The College of St. Benedict, St. John’s University, and St. Cloud State University Army ROTC Fighting Saints Battalion marches in the annual Veterans Day Parade in St. Cloud, Minn., Nov. 9, 2008. (00:46)

WWJO-98 Country at 2008 St. Cloud Veterans Day Parade

98 Country / Regent Broadcasting participated in the annual Veterans Day Parade co-sponsored by Times Media, St. Cloud Metrovets, the VA Medical Center, and the City of St. Cloud, Sunday, Nov. 9, 2008. (00:41)

A large sign showing the number of U.S. troops killed in the war in Iraq is shown on Veteran
A large sign showing the number of U.S. troops killed in the war in Iraq is shown on Veterans Day in a field of 4,824 wooden crosses in Lafayette, California, November 11, 2008. (Photo credit: Robert Galbraith / Reuters)


Related reports on this site

Veterans Day Parade (Nov. 11, 2009)

St. Cloud Veterans Day Parade (Oct. 23, 2009)