When was the last time you felt compassion?
sympathetic concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.
On Veteran's Day 2017 we met at the Women's Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery before walking to 8 different gravesites to explore through story the suffering we ask our warriors to go through on behalf of the nation. Our last visit was to the site of a warrior who lost his battle with PTSD.
Compassion begins with suffering and becomes good will when we are mindful and connect with our hearts.
Before the walk we took time to leave symbols of compassion inside Armor Down meditation cushions.
We first visited the site of Medgar Evers. Medgar was an American civil rights activist from Mississippi who worked to overturn segregation at the University of Mississippi by enacting social justice and voting rights. He was murdered by a white supremacist and Klansman. Medgar was killed by Byron De La Beckwith, a member of the White Citizen's Council. This group was formed in 1954 to resist the integration of schools and civil rights activism. As a veteran, Evers was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
Our second stop was LTG Tim Maude. He was the highest ranking military member to die on September 11, 2001. Tim is remembered as a fallen warrior "who had the ability to look into the future, then to conceptualize a vision and translate that vision into an ambitious and feasible plan of action. He anticipated institutional reluctance to change - and over came it gracefully and skillfully."
Our third stop was the unique marble gravesite of Col. James Fingal Gregory (1843 - 1897). James was a member of Corps. of Engineers, who accompanied General Sheridan to explore the Big Horn Mountains and Yellowstone National Park. American westward expansion makes us think of adventure, Native American Indians, empire.
What does it say about American warrior culture that we would bury an enemy POW in our most Sacred Cemetery?
Our fourth stop on the Compassion Walk was Mario Batista. An Italian prisoner of war from World War II, he was captured in North Africa. The Geneva Conventions governed treatment of prisoners, and the United States honored those rules in hopes that its enemies would treat American prisoners decently. Those captured could not be forced to work in war industries. However, they could be permitted to work in agriculture, for modest pay, if captors decided they presented no risk to the neighborhood and likely would not try to escape. Mario was permitted to do farm work and was placed on Maryland's Eastern Shore. He fell ill and died in a Washington area hospital during his confinement. Geneva Conventions prescribe that prisoners should be "honorably buried," which is understood to mean about the same quality of care as would be provided for the captor's own soldiers. Arlington was the nearest military cemetery. Likely viewed as a routine administrative matter under the Conventions, Mario was interred not far from the low stone wall separating the cemetery from Fort Myer.
We next walked to the grave site of Civil War nurse Juliet Opie Hopkins. Juliet wrote letters home for the soldiers, made requests for furloughs, and supplied them with books to read during the long hours of convalescence. She kept a list of the soldiers who died and sent locks of their hair to their families in Alabama. During the Battle of Seven Pines Juliet was shot in the leg twice while rescuing wounded men from the battlefield. These injuries required surgery, and left her with a permanent limp.
Her compassion and courage brought moments of peace and healing to deeply suffering men.
If you imagine her going about her duty, dodging gun fire and helping the wounded - can you feel compassion?
At the beginning of the Civil War, Hopkins sold her estates in New York, Virginia and Alabama, and donated the proceeds to the Confederate government to establish hospitals for sick and wounded soldiers. Would your feelings towards her change if you knew she gave all her money (estimated to be between $200,000 - $500,000) to support the Confederacy and that the soldiers she was caring for were Confederates?
Next we walked to LT Harry Schneider's burial site. Harry graduated from North Carolina State in 1938 and was a member of the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity.
The seventh site visited was Capt. Marvin Polin. We know Marvin was Jewish. We know he served in WWII.
Where does Marvin’s faith and his service to America during WWII take your mind?
Our final stop was a visit to the grave of Sgt Shawn M. Reilly. He was known as RangerSmurf and when he came home he suffered deeply.
Words that can be used to describe Shawn's experience with life when he came home are: despair, rage, hyper vigilance, tension, stress. Sadness.
Shawn served America for over 20 years. He died by suicide.
On our last stop we acknowledged his suffering and remembered him with compassion.