Lt. Col. Billy Hall, one of the most senior officers to be killed in the Iraq war, was laid to rest yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the Pentagon doesn’t want you to know that.
The family of 38-year-old Hall, who leaves behind two young daughters and two stepsons, gave their permission for the media to cover his Arlington burial — a decision many grieving families make so that the nation will learn about their loved ones’ sacrifice. But the military had other ideas, and they arranged the Marine’s burial yesterday so that no sound, and few images, would make it into the public domain.
That’s a shame, because Hall’s story is a moving reminder that the war in Iraq, forgotten by much of the nation, remains real and present for some. Among those unlikely to forget the war: 6-year-old Gladys and 3-year-old Tatianna. The rest of the nation, if it remembers Hall at all, will remember him as the 4,011th American service member to die in Iraq, give or take, and the 419th to be buried at Arlington. Gladys and Tatianna will remember him as Dad.
The two girls were there in Section 60 yesterday beside grave 8,672 — or at least it appeared that they were from a distance. Journalists were held 50 yards from the service, separated from the mourning party by six or seven rows of graves, and staring into the sun and penned in by a yellow rope. Photographers and reporters pleaded with Arlington officials.
“There will be a yellow rope in the face of the next of kin,” protested one photographer with a large telephoto lens.
“This is the best shot you’re going to get,” a man from the cemetery replied.
“We’re not going to be able to hear a thing,” a reporter argued.
“Mm-hmm,” an Arlington official answered.
The distance made it impossible to hear the words of Chaplain Ron Nordan, who, an official news release said, was leading the service. Even a reporter who stood surreptitiously just behind the mourners could make out only the familiar strains of the Lord’s Prayer. Whatever Chaplain Nordan had to say about Hall’s valor and sacrifice were lost to the drone of airplanes leaving National Airport.
This makes me mad.