>> okay, thank you. happy to be here again. nice to see all of you. i thought i would begin talking about this book, section 60, which is one of the newer sections of arlington national cemetery. this project is basically a continuation of my last book, which previous to this called on hallowed ground, which was the history of arlington cemetery. that book begin when robert e. lee left home in 1861 and made the decision to leave the army. and codified for virginia in the civil war.
that book ended with basically the attacks of 9/11. someone from the civil war the 9/11. this book i discovered while i was researching the arlington history. i kept coming back to this part of arlington which was completely different from other parts of the cemetery. just to put into perspective the overall cemetery is 624 acres. there something like 300,000 people buried there. this is just a little subset of that, 14 acres in one of the newer sections of arlington cemetery, which when i started working on this book several years ago, the new book, it was beginning to fill up.
the war in iraq was our involvement in the war was winding down, but there were still people coming to that part of arlington who had served in iraq. and there was a huge influx of people killed in fighting, our people killed in fighting in afghanistan. so while this was a work in progress, there were all of these soldiers sailors and marines airmen coming to rest at arlington cemetery and as i said, at a distance it looks like any other part of arlington cemetery but if you zoom in a little closer and start looking at the names on the grays, talking to some of the people who visit their, and a special look at some of the things that people bring their to leave for the friends and comrades and loved ones, you see it's quite different.
it's alive. there's a lot going on there. the motions are closer to the surface. the people who have come to rest there in the past dozen years our young, yo, unit come with af their lives before them. here they are buried at arlington. so my thought what i set out on this book was to not to try to tell the story of all the people buried there. more than 900 men and women killed in iraq and afghanistan who were buried there. i had to pick and choose who am i going to focus on, what am i going to write about, what stories will they tell us about our most recent wars. so that was the approach i took with this book.
basically, the idea was to see what's different about our most recent wars, how do they compare to the earlier conflicts represented in our history. and how do you see that played out in this one little postage stamp of earth. yes? [inaudible] >> section 60 such a different part because it's more alive and current and active. i visit arlington fairly frequent. i find section 60 what a difficult to get through, especially if it into time when they have not cleared out a lot of the artifacts. it is not the place i'd like to visit a law. i find it difficult to visit even in friendly. how did you sustain yourself doing this? it is, the artifacts which i'm sure you describe a particular time, i find it very difficult,
if the overwhelming. how did you keep yourself going for this? >> it was a top. i mean, it was much harder than i thought it would be. at the time i lived in the washington area. we lived here for 40 years, and 10 minutes away from arlington so i was there every day for basically two years while i was doing research on this book. you know, there were times when i just, i had to put down my pen and walk away. it's very emotional, a very tough place to visit, as you say. some of the artifacts you mentioned, and i talk about some of those in the book. when a young person dies, the young soldier or marine, it
makes, it makes no sense. they are gone before their time. and those left behind feel some need to do something, to show that someone still cares, to show that this person is remembered. so i think that's why you see so many strange and multi-various artifacts in section 60. people bring letters, very personal letters. they leave it on the tombstone. pictures, photographs, family pictures, family photographs. bronze stars, purple hearts, empty brass cartridge cases from afghanistan or iraq, quarters. every now and again you will see a quarter on top of a
gravestone, or a penny. what sense does that make? well, whatever it is everything make sense in some way. the quarters are from people who served with the person in the ground, and it's a way to say i was there, i remember. the pennies are from people who were in boot camp with the person. people write elaborate notes with sharpies on rocks and leave them there. and you know, you could say well, it looks like junk. it looks like a mr. arlington is supposed to be green grass, white tombstones, very spare aesthetics. everything you see in section 60
is in violation of that, and there's been conflict between the people who run arlington cemetery and familie the familid friends who brings all this stuff. and they really haven't reached a compromise on a. they have tried to put anyone on continue that. yes, sir spent the way you describe it militancy very much of what happened on the vietnam memorial wall program student is exactly like the vietnam wall. that's a good analogy because, you know, someone who's interested in history, i am very much, appreciate the national park service which has jurisdiction for the vietnam wall, as a very systematically, historians have systematically gather all these artifacts up and tried to make sense of them and collect them. if i'm writing about the vietnam war 20 years from now, there will be a repository of things that were important to people who served in vietnam or had
friends lost there. for example, you would see something like this at the vietnam memorial. a cigarette, and then smoked a cigarette with writing on the side which is unbroken and dry which was the greatest thing you could have been vietnam, a smoke that wasn't what and wasn't broken. so some friend has gone to the trouble and laid that there. the park service historians had sense enough to say that cigarette as our guide, you know, some future historian will now know that how important that one little thing was to the people who served in vietnam. you see a lot of things like that at arlington. to their credit the department of the army, which has jurisdiction over arlington national cemetery, people from
all different services are buried there, but the control of the cemetery is under the department of the army, of the civilian section of the army. the army got control over arlington, the robert e. lee a state in 1861, and to never give up control. they still have it today so that's the reason for that. they haven't yielded to the veterans administration. they still want to run arlington cemetery. to their credit the army center for military history has had historians, archivists, going through section 60 for the past four or five years. a couple of times a month gathering artifacts, cataloging everything and adding to the archive at fort belfour which
that's what they're repository is for such archives. so some future historian will come back and see what is important to people at the time of, what do people bring. anyways its universal. it's the same stuff. you go back to the ancient greeks way of achilles is mourning his friend patroclus killed in battle, killed in action. what does he do? he takes a goblet of wine and pours it on the ground, on his grave. people do that in section 60 every day to this day, same tradition, same impulse. you see people out there, any time you go to section 60 you will see a mother or a brother or a comrade somewhere having a
drink. is set for me, one for the guy in the ground. it drives that he will run arlington cemetery crazy because you are not supposed of alcohol there. you are not supposed to do this. every now and then they will come out and reprimand, you know, a mother for having a beer with her son. i quote one of them in my book. mary coyer, saginaw, michigan, is there to visit her son ryan, and have a beer with them. and some of the issues young guy came to tell her can't drink beer here. and so she drank half of it and poured the other half on the ground for her son ryan. and told me no way was that guy going to get ryan's a beer. but there's come to think his site, there's a tension there, and emotions there.
i think because it's so recent, there hasn't been time for these scars to heal. friends and family, there. they are feeling a need to do something, to say something. you just have this urge to keep a person alive somehow in some way. and it does get very emotional. >> so anyway, what, my plan with this book was, i don't know how to write history or tell stories except by focusing on individuals. so that's what i did. one of the signature weapons of our recent wars is the improvised explosive device. that brought a lot of people to section 60.
i could write about all of them, so i ended up writing about a young marine, a great, young marine, staff sergeant named jimmy, from maryland whose mom i got to know. i used to see her in section 60 all the time you and i wrote about it as a way of talking about this new weapon which is characteristic of her most recent wars. basically a roadside bomb, the improvised explosive device which our government has spent millions of dollars, millions and millions and billions of dollars, trying to come up with a fix, trying to combat it, try to figure a way to beat it. and they made some progress, but it's almost impossible because the ied is so easy to me, cheap to make, easy to conceal, and it's been a very, very effective
weapon in our most recent conflicts in iraq and in afghanistan. so this book is way to talk about that weapon that took out so many young men, and some women, mainly men. that's another thing you see in section 60. women are not come have not been directly involved in combat, but they've been getting closer and closer to it. and so now in section 60 you begin to see women truck drivers blown up by ieds. they are right there alongside a guy. women helicopter pilots, and helicopters have been very, very important because of the geography in afghanistan. it's the only way you can get around. so more helicopters, more women. there in the ground along side the cusp and i suppose in the
future we will see more of. when i started research on this book, this part of the cemetery was about half full. now it's almost completely full. so i guess with another war, which i'm sure we will have, we seem to have periodically, there will be other sections of arlington where these things will play out. i also, another characteristic of the recent conflict is something you've already about, post-traumatic stress disorder. so i had to try to find a way to talk about that, talk about some of the people that that disorder brought to this part of arlington, and help families and the services have struggled to fight against it, to deal with it. and to the credit of our
military, they have announced that if you have ptsd and you want to get treatment, it's not a stigma, it will not be held against you, they will help you with it. and they could just about ptsd this that they can pretty effectively be treated, if you get treated. something like 80% of the people who have been diagnosed with it have been okay. most people are okay, but some aren't. just because of the stigma associated with this disorder, which is nothing new. the diagnosis is new. the name ptsd is new. again, you go back to greek and roman times. we've had it with every war human that there've been engaged in, some equivalent of the. you go back and read herodotus. he writes about a soldier who
was standing in line in battle and a big giant, a giant enemy warrior rose up in front of him and struck the guy next to him dead. not a mark on our guy. he went blind instantly from the dramatic experience come and remained blind for the rest of his life. ptsd. so it's nothing new, but we do know now what it is. we know how to treat it. added fortunately for our people in section 60 who we couldn't help it everybody try to help them, some of them but was nothing you could do to help with the transition from war to peace time. it's not an easy transition for some people.
i tried to deal with that in this book. the other thing you see in section 60, aside from evidence of the most recent conflicts in iraq and afghanistan, you also see people coming there from earlier wars, world war ii, korea and vietnam. either because people get old enough, get old, they die a peaceful death. they go to section 60, also. at the same time almost every week when i was working on the book they would be a repatriation of somebody from world war ii, korea or vietnam who's been gone for 50 or 60 years who are people from what was then called the joint pow and mia accounting commit the
they are all over the world all the time looking for people missing from earlier wars and periodically they find them. they bring them back. to identify than because we are very good at dna ib now, and from dental records. maybe 50 or 60 years later give them a decent sendoff at the section 60 arlington. so if you walk through section 60 you may see someone in his grave from iraq, some of you from korea who has been gone for 50 or 60 years, just now back, and someone there from afghanistan, all three in a row. so there's a story we find every tombstone there. and the thing i wanted to do, one of the things i wanted to do with this book with to talk about the community of the living as well as those who are in the ground and what paths
brought them of there. the committee of the living who come there every day -- the community of the living who come there every day to remember a family member or a colleague just to hang out with them. people bring to those of you who have been there know people bring lawn chairs. families will set up by the grave of a son or daughter and just spend a sunday afternoon sitting there, maybe having a beer, talking to the tombstone, caring on a conversation. they have been interrupted at some point. and section 60, anywhere else you would be considered loony talking to tombstone. section 60, it's completely normal. nobody gives it a second thought. people do it everyday. >> what other requirements for being buried in arlington?
can people who die in these wars be buried in a family plot in their own town? i mean, how is -- >> yes, the question is what are the qualifications for burial at arlington, and who decides? is ultimately up to the family. so ever, has the option of taking someone back to pennsylvania or new jersey, the other national cemeteries all over the trinity. or something like 150 of them. every state has national cemeteries. it's basically up to the family. ultimately, it's up to the individual service member so that these in the army when you go into the service, you are given lots of paperwork, of course, a part of the paperwork is the blue book and you pull all sorts of information, including what happens if the
worst happens and you die. where do you want to be buried? who do you want your pallbearers to be. what songs do you want? what service can what denominational, do you want a clergyman? all of this stuff, so that at a very tough time the family doesn't have the gas. it's all written out. i think the services to do that. anyway, that's what, that's the protocol. it's, first of all, specified by the service member, and then it is ultimately up to the next of kin which has been the case back to the civil war. that's the way we've always done it. who qualifies for burial at arlington? it is basically anyone killed in action. or who is a career military person who would ordinarily
qualify for retirement. so if it's 20 years, you qualify for retirement, you qualify for burial at arlington. if you have received the medal of honor, navy cross, the bronze star, a number of medals also qualify you for burial there. in addition to all of that, there is a new, relatively new part of arlington adjacent to section 60, and that is for cremated remains. so that it takes up very little space. you know, if your family chooses for you to go there, it's a little box like this for ashes, and there are niches like a whole series of wall with niches
in them for cremated remains. anyone who is honorably discharged from service can go for internment there. they call it. people used to that sort of abjection to cremation, across the board but it's become more accepted and it certainly is more prevalent at arlington. that has taken pressure off of the inground burials at arlington cemetery, which is still filling up but they think they can go another 50 years with the space they have no, especially if the cremation takes some of the pressure off the inground burials. yes? >> do they still have room to expand speak with do they still have room to expand? i think the short answer is no.
but they have recently acquired 70 acres around the edges of arlington. i don't know if any of you remember the old navy annex. they knocked that down sometime in the last couple of years. that's all going to be given over to do burial territory, and they've also gotten some acreage from fort myer, which sort of curls around arlington cemetery. so all of that will add 70 acres and you can get a lot of burials in 70 acres. what happens when that fills up, who knows, but the people around arlington if we can go another 50 years with what is there. there's also, i mean, if you look next door at the pentagon, there's a lot, there's a huge parking lot around the pentagon,
you know. i'm sure somebody is thinking about that even as we speak. i'm just sort of rambling here i'm happy to take more questions. yes? >> soldiers that have returned from a war and have left the system but have ptsd and end up dying from ptsd, are they eligible for arlington cemetery? >> they are not unless they have one of those awards, or career. but basically no. there's been a lot of debate about whether to make ptsd, can you get a purple heart for ptsd? it's been the decided -- it's been decided that you cannot. but some people get it not a stripper from wartime injuries. you can get it from having
witnessed some horrible thing for having been in iraq. so there's some debate about whether that should qualify but there's a very strong group of people who say definitely, you should be qualified. but i don't think just because you served and because you have ptsd, that doesn't, if you're not still in the military, that doesn't qualify you for burial there. >> is that any action going on in the vietnam sections? is there anybody that visits that like to do? i mean they've obviously done the memorial on the mall. was there any movement out to arlington for any of that? >> well, there are people who serveserve from vietnam who are buried in section 60, but they are scattered to other parts of the cemetery, too.
they are not as concentrated into one section asked the people from iraq and afghanistan are. why, i don't know. that's a good question. but i think most of the focus for vietnam veterans, unless they're coming to visit a particular grave at arlington, most of the focus is at the wa wall. and i say in the book, until, there is no memorial for iraq and afghanistan. until there is, section 60 is the memorial. so you see, people are still in the service, they come there to visit their friends. they come there to leave things. is the focal point for families who have lost family members in iraq or afghanistan. spin do you think they will not get a memorial because everybody is focused on that area and that is sort of what they are used in? >> no.
i think, every war we've ever had has a memorial, and i think iraq and afghanistan will. but it takes, it takes a long time. i mean, look at the vietnam memorial. it took 20 or 30 years, you know, for that to take root. and it takes time for things to settle down for the stars to begin hearing -- the scars to begin healing, that sort of thing. i think iraq and afghanistan are two recent for there to be any other memorial at the moment but we will get around to it. i don't have any question about it. yes? [inaudible] i'm not aware of anybody else's building right now, are you? have you been in touch with the people that quantico about that?
>> i have not, but that's a great museum. any of you who have not visited yet, i recommend that it's the best, first rate. and i'm not surprised that they have an iraq afghanistan wing. they should. that's another thing. you notice in section 60 also characteristic of these most recent wars, the marines always do their part, and then some, but you really see what sacrifice they have made in this part of arlington. and you also see something else that truly characteristic of recent wars. the importance of special ops, it's become increasingly important, and all that we do. because there so many special ops, people out there, you see fighting, doing things out in
the world. they are very well represented in section 60, many of them. and it's not just people killed in action. it's also, every war, you go back through every war. that are almost as many people who die in training and accidents die from bullets. and you see a lot of that with the special ops guys because its high risk of stuff that you are jumping out of airplanes. your parachute doesn't open, you end up in section 60. there's a disproportionate number of chopper pilots in section 60 from iraq and afghanistan, but a lot of them from iraq. because that's the way you get around. so high risk, and you see it
finished and it's just a lens, section 60, for every aspect of a recent conflict. you walk around as part with your eyes open. you see it played out every day. there's a question back there. >> i am curious to know, are your reasons for writing these two books, did you come it may be a painful question but did you have a personal interest in writing either one of these books? >> the question is a reason for writing these books. i hate to admit it, but the first, the history of arlington cemetery, i never would've thought to write the history of arlington in 100 years. i was talking to my agent about projects, and it was his idea. he said, you should write a history of arlington. no one has ever done it.
i walked myself when i become and again researched the next day. there's an example. i have friends buried at arlington. i live at the time 10 minutes from the cemetery. i was over there all the time. it was an example of something being so close that i didn't notice it as a good subject. it to somebody with more brains than i. so that's the reason i did the first book. and in the second book i did just because i knew about, i learned about this part of arlington while i was doing the history of the cemetery. i came across section 60. this is different. there's a lot going on there. nobody is doing it. at the way to tell some way to tell similar the stories from iraq and from afghanistan that people might not otherwise know about. so that's what i did. the idea was to give a salute to
the people who died in iraq and afghanistan, and to say what paths leading to arlington. and to talk about who's left let behind, what families do, how do they carry on, how do they remember these people lost to war. which is the oldest story we know. so that was the idea. one of the things i should mention. i'm talking about the community of the living at section 60. any of you put into an arlington service know it's very special, and it is special because if you are a soldier or a sailor or marine or an airman or coast guardsman, your comrades from the service will be the ones who carry you to the grave.
usually contemporaries. they are usually young men and women who might just as well be in iraq or in afghanistan. they are the ones who carry you to the grave. they fired the rifle salutes. they fold the flag. they play taps. those are all uniformed members of your service giving you a grand sendoff. so part of what i did in this book was to go behind the scenes with each of the services and see how do they train, what do they do. fort myer, which is the home of the old guard, which provides a lot of them for all of the army services at arlington, the old guard from fort myer provides a casket team, a firing party, a marching platoon if you were up high enough rank to rate that, you know, all the aspects of an
arlington service. and if you go to service you don't think twice about it. it's flawless. it's choreographed. it's beautiful. everybody has turned out just right. it's because it's what they're doing all day long for preparing for funeral services at arlington. and when i did the book i spent a lot of time with the guys at fort myer. they offer to carry me around in their practice casket, and i said no thanks. they put weights, flat whites in caskets, regulation sized caskets. and you will see them out by route 50 behind fort myer carrying caskets around. they are getting ready for an arlington funeral. so they carry it. you don't want it told in this way or that way. it's got to be on the level. it's got to be dignified.
you've got to carry it at a reasonable pace. you have to set it down carefully. it's 180 over 200 pounds you carry inside the casket. so you got to train to do that right. the different surfaces and had to do things, the marines, i spent time with the marines at the marines barracks where they have their honors teams training for funerals. because they are marines, they provide for their casket team, they call them body bears in the marines. their body bears teams are composed of six members. all the other services have eight, four on each side, but the marines, you know. so they do less with more. they are pumping iron getting ready for funerals. and they are very meticulous,
very serious about what they do, and a lot of the guys when i was there had been in afghanistan and iraq. so they either carrying somebody to the great thinking, this could have been me. so it's not purely abstract for these guys. and i say guys because with the marines, it's been all guys. with the air force they have women on, at least one woman i talked to, she's in my book, on the casket team. and, you know, she could break me in half like a piece of dry spaghetti. i mean, she's lifting weights all day. she's, you know, she's up there with the guys. she can do anything they can do. the navy has women on its honors
teams now. so you can see as society changes, as things change, you can see it played out in section 60. yes? >> yes. this is that it personal. i wonder how writing this book has maybe changed you as a person, and maybe your reaction to the news, you know, and our political climate at all that kind of stuff with the war? >> well, it was much harder than i thought it would be to write this book, to research it and to write it. so that was sort of an awakening for me. i think it's made me more aware of, like the subtitle of my book is section 60, where war comes home. it makes me think about when they talk about going to war somewhere, what are they going to do, what's going to happen to our young men and women.
it makes you think about the cost of war and you see these young people coming back. george marshall, when he was chief of staff in world war ii, he lived at fort myer, and he worked at the pentagon at a user to occasionally walk through arlington cemetery to go to work. and he said every general ought to have to do that just as a reminder. that this is, this is what we are up against. it made me think about, think carefully about what it means when they go to war. it's not a political statement. i think that one thing we learned from vietnam, oftentimes
the people who serve in vietnam were, the individuals, were detested, they were spat upon, they were not welcomed home. i think we learned from that, that even if someone thinks the iraq war was not a good idea, i think everybody who serve their has been welcomed home and has been made to feel welcomed. we haven't made that same mistake again. on the other hand, i think it is, i'm happy we have a volunteer service. i think they are very professional. they are better, more qualified probably than they've ever been, but the trade off is that the people who fought in iraq and afghanistan feel very isolated because it's not a war that, i mean, there were some days when
i would think section 60 is the only place you would know there's a war going on because there's no war tax, no gas rationing, no draft, none of the shared sacrifice that we have associate with earlier wars. so i think we are still grappling with that, and i think it is, it's an aspect of our recent conflicts in the all-volunteer force that we're still grappling with. people do feel, people who have been out there feel very isolated and they feel as if nobody knows what they have done. nobody knows the sacrifice they have made. and that's another reason i wanted to do this book, just to remind people this is what some of these young men and women have done on our behalf. yes? >> i have a comment and the
question. i frequently ride by section 60, and it's very heart wrenching to see the families and the friends of these young people. and i just wondered, because i know how important a chapel service can be, like for memorial day or veterans day, and when the groups, the buddies gather or the moms and dads or otherwise, does the chaplain or anybody from the army tried to be there for these people? when you see a young woman sitting on a blanket for hours, and it's so tragic to see that, is there anybody who can at least go by and say, can i help you? package or a bottle of water? is there any interaction with those people? >> that's a good question.
i don't know of individual chaplains who have done that. i know several who would be inclined to step in and help out if it's a situation like that. what i have seen many times is when you see the woman on the blanket or a family, the old family around the tomb, i have seen other family members come over, people from other families who are at section 60. there's a whole community of those people hoping each other out who come and that some of them in the book, who will go over and say i know how you feel. this happened to me a couple of years ago and then tried to get through it and here's how i'm getting through it. there's a great organization
named the tragedy assistance program for survivors, which is designed to help families connect with each other and help each other through a difficult time, a difficult loss to southern is sort of a network of families who tried to help each other out. there's also a tremendous, a terrific group, i mentioned them in the book. i'm sure you have seen them at arms and called the arlington ladies, which is kind of, it sounds like a garden club or something but it's actually a formidable group. every surface, except for the marines, as arlington ladies -- service -- was started because an air force general's wife was going through arlington, just as
you are just describing, going through arlington one day and saw someone, a widow all alone at the grave of an airman who would just been buried. the widow was there, and the chaplain was there, and that was it. nobody was at the service. and she decided, gladys, i commend her last name. husband was chief of staff of the air force, vandenberg, thank you. she decided that will never happen again so she started the air force arlington ladies so that at every service they would be a civilian representative of the secretary of the air force who would go to the surface, who would sit with the family, who would give a card to the widow our other family members and say, here's my card. if you need anything, if i can help, if you want to talk to be
a call. just so there would be some repair from the service. all of the other services incorporated and arlington ladies element, and they are still at every funeral you will see a civilian representative of the surface along with the uniformed members therefore the last salute. the marines, i asked the marines about this and they said, well, we don't need arlington ladies because the marines, we take care of each other. that's the marines. >> i want to thank you very much for both of your books. i'm sure ious something because i led tours at arlington and diffuse material from your books. spent allocated an address to send a check. [laughter] >> but you made me very curious about section 60 and i went on
the last memorial day. my father is in 63 just behind there, it is really quite an amazing scene. so many people there, and you know, the lawn chairs and kids running around with the balloons. and one guy, i don't know who he was, came up in a pith helmet at a kilt and was playing, on the bagpipes, was playing military to everyone was entranced spewing memorial day, that's the big at arlington especially section 60. it is their christmas basically that everybody turns out. again, it's sort of a nightmare for the people o who run, try to run for senator because, you know, crowd control and quite often, i've been there several memorial day is. to his credit the president and
first lady combine. they talk to people. they visit. the secretary of defense is often there. and to his great credit, i think, admiral mullen, former chairman of the joint chiefs, now civilian, doesn't have any reason to, any pr reason to come there, he shows up as a civilian and a golf shirt and i call that -- golf hat and makes the rounds and visits his old shipmates and talks to the families. you know, he makes an effort, which is i guess what it's all about, you know, to make the effort, to remember the people who are buried there and to recall their names and the call what they did, we call the sacrifice they made. that's the