The Pentagon’s Heroes Ceremony

Jerry Coffee
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Wednesday - June 20, 2007
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If you’ve ever been to the Pentagon in America’s capital, you know it is a building consisting of five concentric rings, the “E” ring on the outside down to the “A” ring on the inside. Any one of the hallways - or “spokes” - connecting an outside entrance on the “E” ring to the grassy, shaded area inside the “A” ring is a little more than the length of a football field. Over the past four years one of these hallways - third corridor, second floor - has become the setting for a most poignant and revered weekly ceremony - a ceremony neither called by anyone nor organized by anyone.

Every Friday, wounded servicemen and women - mostly soldiers and Marines - from the D.C. military hospitals are hosted at a luncheon by the Pentagon brass as a small but heartfelt expression of gratitude for the sacrifices and hardships endured to ensure the security and continued freedom of their countrymen. It also provides an informal setting for dialogue so that the needs and concerns of these heroes can be heard directly by the people who can make things happen.

Just before the guests begin arriving around 10:30 a.m., this brightly lit and shiny, tiled hallway connecting E to A - known informally as the “Army” hallway because of the concentration of Army Intel, Operations and Logistics offices - attracts officers of all ranks, and enlisted and civilians as well. They line the walls on each side packed three or four deep, hundreds of bodies challenge the efficacy of the air conditioning. But no one complains - in fact, the banter is light and expectant.

Around 10:40 the applause begins at the E ring entrance and the crowd compresses to ensure an ample path down the middle of the hallway. Lt. Col. Bob Bateman, who wrote the article “Cheers on Corridor Three” described it thus: “The clapping is low, sustained, hearty and 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 missing the greater part of one leg, and some of his wounds are still suppurating.” The soldier’s chair is being pushed by a senior officer.

And on they come, stretching all the way from “E” to “A,” some on high-tech crutches, prosthetic limbs, some leave their wheel-chairs to walk as best they can, chins held high. Many are accompanied by family members; the new brides stand out. The applause is sustained by the sergeants, field grade officers and a general here and there, most of whom by this time have “been there” too, their eye contact reaffirming the bond of combat that transcends rank. “And not a man there, walking or clapping, is ashamed of the silent tears on more than a few cheeks.” For more than 20 minutes, soldier after soldier they come, 30 in all; “53 legs, perhaps only 52 hands or arms, but 30 solid hearts.”

Bateman concludes, “Twenty-four minutes of steady applause. My hands hurt, and I laugh to myself how stupid that sounds in my head. ‘My hands hurt.‘Christ! Shut up and clap!”

Every single Friday for four years!

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