Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Faces of Freedom ~ Tom Guggliuzza and Holly Holeman

Section 60 - Arlington National Cemetery. The final resting place - first for the victims from the Pentagon on September Eleventh and now for those killed in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

To get to Section 60, you walk a very long ways through the cemetery to reach the area between the shadow of the Pentagon and the Arlington Columbarium. It is far away from the tour buses and the crowds. It is quiet and peaceful. But, it is also noticably different than the rest of Arlington. It is an area where the new graves are decorated with flowers and balloons and letters. On top of the headstones are HERO rocks. It is a place where we felt the cost of freedom in a profound way.

Paula Davis, mother of Justin, who died in Afghanistan in June 2006, lives in Maryland and is able to visit often. Yet, she is haunted by the fear that her son and all the others in Section 60 will soon be forgotten. She pictures a silent field, no visitors. "People go on with their lives," she says. But, Paula Davis now knows that there are people watching out for the fallen warriors in Section 60.

Meet Tom Guggliuzza. He is retired and gray-haired. Two years ago, he came from Bangor, Pennsylvania to Arlington for his nephews funeral and never went home. He is at Section 60 three to five days a week. He reads to the dead.

Families send him letters, poems and books. He sits on a golf stool at grave sites and reads out loud. "I've learned to love these kids," he said. He was there on the previous Thursday, at the funeral for Army Specialist Nicholas Brown. Tom saw Brown's widow, Sara, standing in the frigid wind with a month-old baby.

He said he has stayed longer in Virginia than he ever expected, but "I just can't leave them." He senses their spirits. "I go through boxes of tissues," Tom said, pointing to a half-empty box of Kleenex beside him on the ground.

Meet Holly Holeman. Holly works at a flower shop near Arlington. When the flower shop got the order for flowers for the burial of the first soldier killed in Iraq, Holly was to deliver a floral arrangement to the funeral. An Army Ranger called her and asked her to bring along a camera to take a picture of the flowers. That was how it all started.

Holly attends funerals and takes pictures. She photographs the headstones when they are installed. And, she visits and places the allowed flowers on the holidays. She quietly emails the pictures to the families. More than anything she gives them the far-off assurance that someone is watching out and taking care of the graves.

On Valentine's Day, red silk roses are placed at the graves. Holly and Tom are there for the placement - providing screw drivers to poke holes in the frozen ground, silk roses, hot chocolate and cookies. The flowers are gathered up after Easter. Holly has made this Pentagon shaped blanket which is bordered with the roses that were removed. She places it in Section 60 at Christmas time.

Holly and Tom are remarkable Americans who care for the families of the fallen in a most loving and special way.


Sarge Charlie said...

you got to love this mother

Buck Pennington said...

Thanks for this, Flag Gazer. Military cemeteries are very, very special places, but Arlington is much more than a cemetery. It's a national shrine. God Bless those that take the time to help preserve the memory of the fallen.

Flag Gazer said...

Buck - It truly is a national shrine. Even though I am on the West coast, I have been there many times. I like to walk the roads and see the many areas where no one ever goes. When I got to Section 60 and saw all of the hero rocks, I was moved to tears.

CopTheTruth said...

Everyone needs to take a stroll through The'll not soon forget it.

Ron Simpson said...


Shanda said...

Holly is amazing! She has taken care of our family since 2005 with pictures and even meeting up with us when we are in the area visiting! She is truly an angel!