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Paying respects at Arlington's Section 60

  • Story Highlights
  • More than 290,000 veterans are buried at Arlington National Cemetery
  • Section 60 is final resting place for troops killed most recently in Iraq, Afghanistan
  • Particularly touching are the mementos left at some of the graves
  • "You are my hero, Daddy. ... I miss you," reads one handmade card
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By Dick Uliano
CNN Radio
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- America's most recent war dead lie in a quiet patch of ground at Arlington National Cemetery known as Section 60.


A soldier places flags alongside tombstones at Arlington National Cemetery.

In that parcel are 485 men and women who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Most tourists keep to other paths at the cemetery, visiting the Tomb of the Unknowns or President John F. Kennedy's gravesite. However, especially on Memorial Day weekend, relatives and friends pay their respects at the graves in Section 60.

"I wish that everyone in their lifetime could come here at least once," said David Christoff of Rossford, Ohio, as he stood where his son is buried.

Marine Sgt. David Christoff Jr. died in Iraq two years ago at age 25. As his father's arms swept toward the rows of white granite gravestones, he said, "You can see the cost of freedom. It's not free, by any means."

"These are all heroes. This is why we're free today. This is why my son was there."

According to the latest numbers from the Department of Defense, 4,080 U.S. troops have lost their lives in Iraq and 423 in Afghanistan.

Arlington is one of more than 100 national cemeteries in the United States where there are military graves. Some families turn down the opportunity to have a loved one buried at Arlington, opting instead to have the grave closer to home.

"It's a hard place to be -- very emotional," said Jerry Fowler of Los Altos, California, while visiting the grave of her nephew, Army Sgt. Dale Brehm. He died in Iraq two years ago.

"All these people who lost their lives," Fowler said, "and we just walk by like it's nothing. They meant something."

"When you walk down these rows," she added, "you learn to respect every single person in this row, not just the person you came to see -- every one."

At least 4 million people visit the cemetery each year, according to its Web site, and officials say Arlington, sadly, is running out of space for graves. There are more than 290,000 bodies buried there.

Plans to expand the cemetery include seven areas where urns can hold the ashes of more than 100,000 people.

Stepping lightly with heavy boots along the row of graves, Army medic Andrew Harriman of the 82nd Airborne dropped to one knee at several.

"We lost 22 guys from our unit," said the soldier, who was wounded in Iraq. He was awarded the Silver Star and Bronze Star for his valor. "Every time I come to town, I stop by."

Four of Harriman's friends are buried in Section 60.

"I don't think people realize how hard it is for the families and the co-workers or friends of these guys," he said.

Also buried in Section 60 is Ross Andrew McGinnis of Knox, Pennsylvania. The 19-year-old Army specialist died in Baghdad when he threw himself on a grenade that had been tossed into his Humvee. He saved four fellow soldiers.

Next month, McGinnis will be awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award, for his bravery.

Not far from his resting place is the burial site of Capt. Maria Ines Ortiz, who became the first Army nurse killed in combat since Vietnam when she died in Iraq last year.


Particularly touching are the mementos left at some of the graves -- photographs of wives and children, children's drawings, coins, greeting cards, notes, stones and even unopened beer bottles.

Nino Livaudes was killed in Iraq in April 2003. At his grave is a multicolored, handmade card bearing the message: "You are my hero, Daddy. I am 4 years old, and I miss you and love you very much, Grant."

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