By Alex McVeigh, Pentagram Staff WriterMay 21, 2009
FORT MYER, Va. (May 20, 2009) -- The Arlington National Cemetery Visitor's Center turned into a reception hall May 15, as top military leaders gathered to pay tribute to the children of fallen servicemembers.
The Arlington National Cemetery Commemorative project presented the book "Children of Valor," to children of active-duty personnel who have been interred at ANC since 9/11.
"Children of Valor" is a companion piece to 2007's "Where Valor Rests," a photographic journey through the ceremonies and other events that make ANC a significant piece of America's military culture.
"This book is to help children understand how we as a country honor our fallen servicemembers," said retired Lt. Col. Michael Edrington, project director and managing editor for the book. "Also, we're trying to provide a resource for parents and families to help them through their grief."
The official party consisted of Secretary of the Army Pete Geren; Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and his wife Deborah; Gen. George W. Casey Jr., Army chief of staff and his wife Sheila; Air Force Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, Air Force chief of staff and his wife Suzie; Vice Adm. Dirk J. Debbink, chief of Navy Reserve, and his wife Terry; Marine Lt. Gen. Richard A. Kramlich, director of Marine Corps Staff for Headquarters Marine Corps and his wife Gail ;and John C. Metzler Jr., superintendent of ANC.
The Caseys escorted Capt. Marissa Alexander and twins Avery and Alaya, family of Staff Sgt. Leroy E. Alexander, who was killed June 3, 2005, in Afghanistan. The Kramlichs accompanied Pamela and Fallyn, family of Marine Maj. Douglas Zembiec, who was killed in Baghdad May 11, 2007.
The Schwartzes attended with Angie, Mark, Victoria, Jared, Shawn and Adrianna Capra, family of Tech. Sgt. Anthony L. Capra, who was killed April 9, 2008, in Iraq. The Debbinks escorted Lisa, Beau and Rebecca Dolan, family of Navy Capt. Robert E. Dolan, who was killed in the 9/11 attacks, and they also accompanied Terry, John and Meghan Valentine, family of Senior Chief Petty Officer Thomas J. Valentine, who passed away during a training jump in Arizona Feb. 13, 2008.
Retired Maj. Gen. Carl McNair, president and chairman of the ANC Project, spoke of what the book symbolizes to the children of fallen servicemembers.
"It's a small token of our gratitude for the selfless sacrifice to this country made by the men and women who rest here at Arlington National Cemetery," McNair said. "May this [book] bring the spirits of their loved ones a little bit closer to home."
McNair then presented the book to Geren.
Afterward, Deborah Mullen gave each child a copy of the book.
Mullen has spent much of her 38 years as a military spouse as an advocate of military families.
"Of all the pain caused by war, the suffering of children hurts the longest and cuts the deepest," she said. "Let me promise you, until you once again are happy, we will not let you live unaware of the gratitude this country feels."
The official ceremony concluded with a DVD slideshow of some of the images from the book.
Afterward, a reception was held where guests greeted the families sharing in the day's ceremony.
"Children of Valor" represents a balance between children's literature and something parents can use as well. Many Department of Defense child psychiatrists were consulted as to the best way to convey the message to families.
Though the book was more than two years in the making, the labor was well worth the effort to all involved.
"This wouldn't have been possible without phenomenal support from Secretary Geren, and the staff of Arlington National Cemetery," Edrington said. "Of all I've done in 31 years in the Army, this was the most rewarding project I've been a part of, and I think the most important."