|The Sentinel of Section 27|
Photo by Tracy Duran
Tracy Duran Collection
As the sun sets, I ready myself to stand guard. My name is William. Sometimes they call me Billy, sometimes Hank, heh. Yeah, when I was a kid, they called me Billy but when I became a soldier, I became William. I straighten my coat and straighten my cap. I don't want to disappoint my commanding officer by not being properly put together. I get my rifle ready for my patrol. The horizon in the distance becomes darker, where the purple of dusk meets the darkness of night. I can smell the moisture in the air, the damp wood of the trees. Tonight is one of many nights when I have stood guard. I don't always get a chance since there are so many to take that turn. Tonight is my night however and I enjoy hearing the silence. The quiet soft velvet of the night.
There used to be a few areas similar to the one I guard but now there are many. Some decide to stick around and see who comes and goes. Others chose to move on. What makes me sad in my heart though are when the kids get lost and come by looking for their fathers or mothers. We try our best to get them together and more times than anything they find each other and move on.
Sometimes we have a leave of some sort, to go home and see how things are. I go to my home in Pocono Lake to see how things are. Things are different every time I go there but it's always for good. They fixed up the place nice and straight. I do miss everyone though. It's hard to come back to my station but I have a job to do. To protect the ones who are scared. To protect the ones who are lost. To help the ones who need help understanding.
I was sent here in the beautiful month of May. There wasn't much here at the time. Just that big house out yonder. Now...now there is so much here, which is kind of sad, yet it is sobering knowing that there is a place for everyone here. Everyone respects one another. Men, women. Young, old. Black, white. Christian, Muslim. Sometimes the younger ones help the older ones get settled here. The older folks appreciate the help. It's hard to be settled in certain aspects of your life then suddenly, out of nowhere, you're here. Lost. Confused. It takes a little while to get used to things. They figure it out though.
For the longest time, there was a gentleman named John who would walk the grounds and meet the new arrivals. He would pray with them and make sure they knew they were in a good place. He came here at a young age but his wife wasn't with him just yet. He was pretty successful and had many stories to tell. He missed his wife and kids, a daughter and a son. His other son was here but had moved on to see other family members. One day, his wife came and they embraced. It was almost as if they glowed; maybe they did. You could tell they loved each other and missed each other so. They did move on for a little while. One day his son came by unexpectedly and was looking for his parents. Someone was able to find them and they came back right away. They all hugged for the longest time; it felt like forever. John asked how everyone was back home. His son said everyone was good, sad that he had to go but they knew he was with his parents finally. His father nodded, knowing exactly what he meant. They moved on for the moment but I'm sure they will be back sooner or later - hopefully later. You'd understand if you were from around here.
Every now and then during my patrol, I can hear yelling and screaming in the distance. When I first started hearing this, it used to scare me. But I was a boyish man then. I'm a young man now and I've seen more than I need to see. Sometimes the noises are from the men and sometimes women, who have a hard time here. After a while, they finally realize that this isn't the end; it's only the beginning. There are times I've patroled during the day but nothing beats patroling at night. During the day the people don't listen well when I ask them to stand back or respect the grounds. Sometimes I'm able to scare them to the point where they walk away from my area but that's pretty rare. At nighttime, all others are free to roam if they choose. You've already earned my respect by coming here. That's how I was raised when I was a young farmboy and that is how I was trained as a soldier. But you need to conduct yourself right in order to earn that respect. All of us here have an unbroken chain of respect among one another.
It is now time to share my history. I mentioned before that my name is William. I'm 20 years old. I became a soldier, a private, at 19. I signed up for the 67th Infantry. I was damn proud to sign up. As a boy, I worked hard at the farm, making sure I put my part in with keeping the farm up and straight for my Dad and Ma. As a man, I worked hard doing my job in the Army to earn my keep here too. March 25th, 1864 was the day I enlisted in this fine Army of ours. On April 22nd though, less than a month later, I got sick. They think it might have been the measles, maybe rubella or whatever it's called. I ain't no doctor; they always have to have those fancy names for getting sick. They took me to the hospital, Ward 19, on May 1st. I fought, dammit; I fought with all my being. Here I wanted to fight for the good of our country and here I was, fighting with the sickness in my body. on May 13th, 1864, I went on to be with our Lord and Savior. It was a beautiful sight. I got to see Jesus and He took me into his arms. He said, “Bless you, son, you are with us. I'm sorry you had to leave but there is a reason you're here. I have a mission for you.” I said, “Sir? A mission, what sort?” He said He knew there would be more wars in the world. It was unfortunate but it was the way of man.
Sometimes humankind ain't so kind. He needed some guides, as He called them, for people who have died and are lost and confused. I understood. I read the Bible everyday and knew that there were people like that in this world. I agreed to help. I told Him, “I'm willing to do anything for you and my fellow man, even if it means I can't be with my family,” and He smiled so big, it was blinding. He told me, “My son, you can see your family. They will always know you are thinking of them as they think of you. They will feel the love in your heart and the touch of your hand. To them, it will feel like a feather or the wind but in their hearts and their souls, they will know it is you.” We hugged again, then He had an angel take me back to where my body was laid to rest. It was a beautiful area. Lush and green. Lots of trees with shade for those hot days. I looked down at my stone and it was as white as the gown on our Lord. He is my commanding officer and He helped me help guide the others who came along. First there was another war in the States. Then there was an actual world war; can you believe that? So much hate for one other that they started a war with everyone in the world. Then things got a bit better, then there was another world war and this one truly scared me. There were people killing people just to kill for "perfection". So much hate and it not only hurt my heart but it also hurt the heart of my friend, Jesus Christ. Then again, He said this was the way of man at the time. Man has to figure out how to love one another and unfortunately the way for them is through war. There was another war, then another, so many came in so many days. It was hard to get them all in order. Some were confused; some were understanding. The ones who hurt the most were the ones crying for their parents because this ain't what they signed up for. We were there for them though. Now, today, there are wars just to have wars. Wars now are for the rich to get rich. It is a game for them and they don't care. They don't send their sons or daughters in but they're willing to sacrifice the child of another family they don't know and, plainly, they don't really care about.
On this day, bear in mind, there are many like me. We keep guard at what is now called Arlington National Cemetery. We guard at dawn, dusk, all day, all night, everyday, year after year, century after century. We protect the young and the old. We help guide the lost and console those who miss their families. I tell them the same thing as my friend Jesus told me, “Just know that when you think of your family, they are also thinking of you. They will feel the love in your heart and the touch of your hand, if only for a moment. To them, it'll feel like a feather but they'll know it was you. They'll smile, might cry a little but please know they will always love you.” That usually makes things OK. They'll ask me how I know all of this. I tell them I've been here a long time and I've seen a lot. They ask me my name and I proudly tell them, “I'm Private William Henry Christman of Regiment 67th from Pocono Lake, Tobyhanna Township, Pennsylvania. I was the first one here and once things are sorted and everyone loves one another and I am no longer needed, I will be the last one to leave.”
Now if you don't mind, I think I've talked a bit long. I need to get to guarding my area. I need to keep an eye on my boys and gals here. You have a good night and make sure you say a prayer for all of us. And pray that one day, there will be love and happiness in this world of ours.