IT HAPPENS EVERY FRIDAY! Were you
Mornings at the Pentagon
By JOSEPH L. GALLOWAY
Over the last 12 months, 1,042
soldiers, Marines, sailors and Air Force personnel have given their
lives in the terrible duty that is war. Thousands more have come home on
stretchers, horribly wounded and facing months or years in military
This week, I'm turning my space over
to a good friend and former roommate, Army Lt. Col. Robert Bateman, who
recently completed a yearlong tour of duty in Iraq and is now back at
Here's Lt. Col. Bateman's account of a
little-known ceremony that fills the halls of the Army corridor of the
Pentagon with cheers, applause and many tears every Friday morning. It
first appeared on May 17 on the Weblog of media critic and pundit Eric
Alterman at the Media Matters for America Website.
"It is 110 yards from the "E" ring to
the "A" ring of the Pentagon. This section of the Pentagon is newly
renovated; the floors shine, the hallway is broad, and the lighting is
bright. At this instant the entire length of the corridor is packed with
officers, a few sergeants and some civilians, all crammed tightly three
and four deep against the walls.
This hallway, more than any other, is
the `Army' hallway. The G3 offices line one side, G2 the other, G8 is
around the corner. All Army! Moderate conversations flow in a low buzz.
Friends, who may not have seen each other for a few weeks, or a few
years, spot each other, cross the way and renew.
Everyone shifts to ensure an open path
remains down the center. The air conditioning system was not designed
for this press of bodies in this area.
The temperature is rising already.
Nobody cares. "10:36 hours: The clapping starts at the E-Ring. That is
the outermost of the five rings of the Pentagon and it is closest to the
entrance to the building. This clapping is low, sustained and hearty. It
is applause with a deep emotion behind it as it moves forward in a wave
down the length of the hallway.
"A steady rolling wave of sound it is,
moving at the pace of the soldier in the wheelchair who marks the
forward edge with his presence. He is the first. He is missing the
greater part of one leg, and some of his wounds are still suppurating.
By his age I expect that he is a private, or perhaps a private first
"Captains, majors, lieutenant colonels
and colonels meet his gaze and nod as they applaud, soldier to soldier.
Three years ago when I described one of these events, those lining the
hallways were somewhat different. The applause a little more wilder
perhaps in private guilt for not having shared in the burden ... Yet.
"Now almost everyone lining the
hallway is, like the man in the wheelchair, also a combat veteran. This
steadies the applause, but I think deepens the sentiment. We have all
been there now. The soldier's chair is pushed by, a full colonel.
"Behind him, and stretching the length
from Rings E to A, come more of his peers, each private, corporal, or
sergeant assisted as need be by a field grade officer.
"11:00 hours: Twenty-four minutes of
steady applause. My hands hurt, and I laugh to myself at how stupid that
sounds in my own head. My hands hurt. Please! Shut up and clap. For
twenty-four minutes, soldier after soldier has come down this hallway -
20, 25, 30. Fifty-three legs come with them, and perhaps only 52 hands
or arms, but down this hall came 30 solid hearts.
They pass down this corridor of
officers and applause, and then meet for a private lunch, at which they
are the guests of honor, hosted by the generals. Some are wheeled along.
Some insist upon getting out of their chairs, to march as best they can
with their chin held up, down this hallway, through this most unique
audience. Some are catching handshakes
and smiling like a politician at a Fourth of July parade. More than a
couple of them seem amazed and are smiling shyly.
"There are families with them as well:
the 18-year-old war-bride pushing her 19-year-old husband's wheelchair
and not quite understanding why her husband is so affected by this, the
boy she grew up with, now a man, who had never shed a tear is crying;
the older immigrant Latino parents who have, perhaps more than their
wounded mid-20s son, an appreciation for the emotion given on their
son's behalf. No man in that hallway, walking or clapping, is ashamed by
the silent tears on more than a few cheeks. An Airborne Ranger wipes his
eyes only to better see. A couple of the
officers in this crowd have themselves been a part of this parade in the
These are our men, broken in body they
may be, but they are our brothers, and we welcome them home. This parade
has gone on, every single Friday, all year long, for more than four
"Did you know that?