Imagine living in Arlington National Cemetery, where every street and lane is a veritable history lesson. Some are named for American presidents and others for military leaders from every war – all buttressed by row upon row of graves and their markers, constant reminders of the sacrifices necessary to sustain America’s democracy.
“It was all I knew,” explained Jack Metzler, 71, whose father, John Charles Metzler Sr., was superintendent of Arlington from 1951 to 1972. “We lived at the superintendent’s lodge on the cemetery grounds near the Fort Myer gate, and, early in my life, my father drilled into us that whatever we did was a reflection on him. No further discussion.”
As youngsters, Jack and his friends played in the cemetery, often stopping to watch the pageantry of a military funeral or interment service or listen to the air-cracking military salutes or the plaintive and familiar tones of a bugler’s “Taps.”
“Our friends were the kids whose folks were stationed at Fort Myer, about a half-mile walk from my house,” Jack remembered. “My brother and I would make friends, and then, in a few years, they’d move away and new kids would arrive and we’d make friends again. It became routine. I was outgoing, transparent – probably because those skills were necessary. That was our world.”
Another aspect of the youngster’s life at Arlington was his father’s work schedule.
“We’d see him at breakfast. Sometimes, especially during the summer, we’d go to the administrative offices, which were about 100 yards away from our home. We’d peek in the windows. He directed a staff of 300, so sometimes he wouldn’t get home before our bedtime.
“In winter, we’d sled down the hill from the Custis-Lee Mansion, but our sledding ended on November 22nd, 1963.”
The President has been shot.
In Jack’s memory, his sledding hill wasn’t the only thing that was changed by what happened in Dallas that afternoon in 1963. He remembered the day of the assassination. He was in high school, in bookkeeping class. Out of nowhere, the school’s public address system gouged into the lull of that otherwise uneventful November afternoon.
“The president has been shot,” the principal’s voice trembled.
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