When my father died in 2017 after a long struggle recovering from a massive stroke, I was less than enthusiastic when my sister and brother lobbied for his interment at Arlington National Cemetery. For a long time, my parents’ plans were to be buried at the national cemetery at Ft. Bayard near Silver City, where they made their home after my father retired from the Marine Corps. Lynn and Drew, retired Army officers, were adamant: Arlington with full honors, the three children who served in the military in their dress uniforms. I agreed reluctantly, knowing it was important to them and not wanting to add more stress to our grieving.
On July 2, 2018, John A. Hamilton, Sr., Lt. Col., USMC (Retired) was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. Typical of military ceremonies, it was at 11 in the morning, the hottest time of day on the hottest day of the year. I was dreading the day, knowing that my new dress whites (true fact: I do not fit in the whites I wore 20 years ago), with blouse, shirt and tie, would be absolutely sweltering.
I didn’t bother to read a protocol manual ahead of the ceremony, so I didn’t really know what to expect. I took my place on the left flank behind the caisson bearing my father’s remains (I am both the youngest and the lowest ranking of my siblings), and as I stepped off, behind Daddy and next to my sister and brother, the familiar rhythm of “left, right, left” brought a sting to my eyes. I was moved beyond belief and so proud to honor my father like this. This was the right thing to do. This was enough.
Then we came to a fork in the road and were met by an honor company and full Marine band. I had not expected this. The sight of more than 80 young men and women leaving their regular duties in full dress to say farewell to my father is something I will never forget. I’m crying as I type this.
I can go on and on about my father and his war record, and I likely will in a future column. The one thing that resounded the most during his interment ceremony, surrounded by young Marines paying him the highest honor, was the knowledge that Daddy, by quietly ignoring orders, did not lose a single Marine during his tour as an artillery battalion commander in Vietnam.
For Dad, it was simple: He was not going to send live Marines to count dead NVA. In all of his monthly operations reports (available online at the amazing Vietnam archive at Texas Tech University), his battle damage assessments are estimated, not verified. He was the last man on board the helicopter evacuating the fire base at Khe Sanh, and not one Marine under his command lost his life during that operation, nor during the future operations he led.
Back to Arlington National Cemetery, where over 400,000 American troops are buried in Robert E. Lee’s front yard. When the Civil War began, and the Commonwealth of Virginia seceded, the U.S. government confiscated the Lee estate. Now known as Ft. Myer, the Lee estate served as a military fortification and cemetery during the war and continues to do so today.
Ft. Myer, a very tangible symbol of the Union’s Civil War victory, was the scene of an amazing event this weekend. The Chief of Staff of the Army held a special formation at Ft. Myer to dismiss the troops deployed briefly to Washington D.C. And he invited the press, which would not have happened without express approval of the Secretary of the Army, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense.
Following a week of escalating drama, less than 48 hours after mobilizing troops at the White House’s order, the Secretary of Defense decided “no more” and held a press conference saying the same. Then the retired generals and admirals spoke out—most notably James Mattis and Colin Powell. Some critics noted it’s a lot easier to condemn the actions of an administration once you’re retired.
But Secretary Esper broke ranks and clearly put his job on the line. Insider reports say the President wanted to fire him that same day but was talked out of it. And on Saturday, the U.S. Army held a beautiful formation on the former estate of a seditionist who fought to keep Black Americans enslaved to show the world that America does not turn its troops on its own people.
I’m proud of my relatively short military service, and that of my family. The quiet adherence to ethics and values demonstrated by my father has been repeated a thousand times over through the history of the U.S. military, and again in June 2020. Please remember that those who serve often face hard decisions in the performance of their duties, and in general, they get it right.
Merritt Hamilton Allen is a PR executive and a former Navy officer. She lives amicably with her Democratic husband and Republican mother north of I-40 where they run two head of dog, and one of cat.