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A Procession of Funerals

On the other side of Route 27 (from the Pentagon), in Arlington Cemetery, the funerals continued.
Nobody, it seemed, went to just one. You went to your husband's co-workers' funerals, or the colonel's secretary's funeral, or your wife's boss's funeral. People went to three, four, six, a dozen funerals. Sometimes there was a memorial service before the body was found. Then there was the funeral. There could be a long delay in between, as families waited months for as many of a loved one's remains as possible to be identified. The last of the 67 funerals at Arlington would not come until spring.

No matter the circumstances, there was a duty to go, if you could. Those who did felt honored. They were caught up in this together, and they would stand at the graves together. There was a sense of obligation and history.

It was especially strange for Phil McNair's wife, Nancy. She would be standing in the front with Phil, and his colleagues' widows would come by and ask him questions. What's the last thing you talked to my husband about? Where did you see him last? Was he in the hall? Did you have coffee with him? It dawned on her then that she was about the only one of the front office families who still had a husband. After that, she often slipped to the back at a ceremony and stayed there.

For all the funeral-going, there was never a sense of "here we go again." The McNairs saw every religion, every type of service: big, small, somber, uplifting, musical, silent. Kip Taylor's was particularly hard his wife was pregnant. So was the one for Debbie Ramsaur, McNair's ebullient secretary. And the one for Neil Hyland, whom Phil had worked with on and off for years. The funeral for Lieutenant General  Timothy Maude, an unusually beloved three-star general for whom McNair had served as executive officer, and the highest-ranking officer killed at the Pentagon, was an enormous and draining event.

Many were laid to rest in Section 64 at Arlington, a gentle knoll that was in plain sight of the blackened gash of the Pentagon. Dozens of funeral processions trooped to Section 64 past the gash. As the leaves fell, it came into even clearer view. It seemed cruel, but the Pentagon, like an ancient, battered fort, now swarmed with derricks and repair crews. There was some hope in that. But the bleached tombstones grew in Section 64. In the end there would be 57 of them.

Posted: 10 September 2002