Last weekend I was in Washington, DC for a gathering of men with whom I served in Vietnam. I arrived a day early so that I could visit Area 60 at Arlington Cemetery, where those who died in Iraq and Afghanistan are being buried. Arlington is a busy place, with eight funerals per day. As I walked from the visitor center to Area 60, I saw Soldiers with a caisson and horses, waiting in the shade for the next burial. I saw Marines practicing 21 gun salutes and I saw loved ones who were mournfully visiting graves of dead young people.
When I arrived at Area 60, I saw what I expected. There were neat rows of gravestones of men and women who died in the line of duty. There was a grave of a young man who received the Medal of Honor. There was an empty hole, covered by two ladders, in preparation for the next funeral. Then I saw something that was totally unexpected and had tremendous impact. What I saw in the last row of graves, there, among the most recent burials, were two gravestones, side-by-side, of a Jewish soldier and a Moslem soldier – together forever.
It was overwhelming to see these two graves beside each other. Two men who were brothers in arms. Two men who in other cultures would be sworn enemies. Two men, who in other countries would be trying to kill one another.
This is the magic of America. When people come here, the old hatreds of old countries fade. English and Irish, German and French, Catholic and Protestant at first tolerate each other and eventually intermarry, melding their cultural traditions into a single unique American culture.
The U.S. is not perfect. We have our share of ethnic and racial prejudices. Yet we seem to have a way of settling those differences without the kind of strife we see elsewhere. As a boy in the South I experienced segregation in its ugliest form. In Washington last weekend, I visited the first monument on our national mall to a non-president. It is dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King, the man who brought our country to the realization of the injustice of segregation and created a chain of events that led to Barak Obama’s election as our president.
Today we have groups of men and women camping in parks across the country. Their common complaint centers around the desire to see an even economic playing field for everyone. They are upset by the abuses of some large businesses. They are united in their belief that the system is tilted against the majority and in favor of a few. The last time we saw this kind of outpouring of frustration was during the Vietnam War. What started out as peaceful protests and teach-ins eventually escalated into violent confrontations.
Just as this country put aside the hatred between North and South, the bigotry of black versus white, the bitterness of pro-Vietnam versus anti-Vietnam, I look forward to the day when we put aside the dissention between those who run our financial institutions and those who feel exploited by them. I hope we can do it soon, in honor of the men and women in Area 60, as well as those throughout Arlington Cemetery and all the other Veterans Cemeteries throughout the U.S.
Henry Bassman has lived in Summit, NJ for more than 37 years. He has been married for more than 40 years and has three daughters, all of whom graduated from Summit High School. Henry retired from AT&T where he wrote about high-technology science and engineering. He now is affiliated with an investment bank that specializes in biotechnology, medical devices and healthcare issues, about which he often writes. Articles by Henry can be seen on ABCNews.com and other business Web sites.