CNN Pentagon Producer
After spending several days over the Memorial Day weekend at Arlington National Cemetery I was surprised to learn that this somber, serious place is also a heck of a playground.
I've seen little girls scramble among the headstones blowing bubbles. One little boy was fascinated by the knickknacks left at the graves. Countless children used the large expanse of grass near the newest graves of the fallen heroes from Iraq and Afghanistan as a great place to just run with abandon. While many children seem sad about visiting the grave of their father or mother, many others are allowed, even encouraged to play.
One woman brought a small blanket, an American Flag and a ball to occupy her young son while she visited the grave of her roommate who died for his country. The little boy probably too young to realize that his middle name is the same as the name on the headstone, a permanent connection to her mother's good friend.
I listened to children giggle, unfazed by the 3 round volley of gunshots that echoed over Section 60 from some other part of the cemetery.
While Angie Capra visited the grave of her husband Anthony, their daughter Anna played with Tony's youngest sisters... little girls just a few years older than Anna. They hid from each other behind the giant shade tree near Tony's grave and blew bubbles that floated on the breeze over the headstones.
I've been to many burials at Arlington, but they are always in Section 60….sometimes called America's Saddest Acre. That’s where many of those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan are buried. But the short formality of the burial ceremonies there and the rules for the media meant I'd never seen children allowed to occupy themselves in the cemetery.
But little of what occurs in Section 60 when burials are not underway is formal. Even adults can be seen enjoying a champagne toast or a bottle of beer in honor of the loved one they've come to visit. The children seem to subscribe to a youngster's version of the same philosophy.
Ayala and Avery Alexander came with their mother, Capt. Marissa Alexander to visit the grave of their father, Leroy, who died in Afghanistan before they were born.
When their mother wasn't quietly using the visit to teach them about their father and what Section 60 means, the twins were busy exploring. Avery was particularly fascinated by a small Yoda doll left on a headstone. His sister got a big kick out of a red, white and blue pinwheel adorning another grave.
The children seemed to understand the boundaries of Arlington National Cemetery and obeyed them. Occasionally a toy or a stone left on a headstone might be knocked to the ground by a child's hand. But if they themselves didn't replace it, some adult nearby would and without any scolding. Never did I see a child behave inappropriately. A few babies cried, but there were no temper tantrums. No climbing on headstones or intentional destruction of the personal memorials so many families have created at the graves.
The phrase "to dance on your grave" has come to mean a way of insulting the deceased.
But these past days at watching the children in Section 60, I've come to realize "to play on your grave" may be one of the best ways a child can honor their deceased fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, the men and women we call fallen heroes.
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
Questions or comments? Send an email
Want to know more? Go behind the scenes with