Alex Chadwick: 'Wondering about a War'

Friday is the day before Veteran's Day, when the United States honors those who have served the nation in wartime. Alex Chadwick visits Arlington National Cemetery to witness the funeral of a Coast Guard veteran, where the sound and fury of the recent election comes second to honoring the "last, full measure" of a soldier's sacrifice.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Just across the river from Washington, D.C., hundreds of acres of land are saturated with American history, where the families of George Washington and Robert E. Lee once lived and where now lie the remains of so many Americans who served in the military. This is Arlington National Cemetery, solemn ground, someone called it.

(Soundbite of gun salute)

CHADWICK: It looked solemn Tuesday afternoon. A slow drizzle of rain dulled the autumn colors. Six horses pulled the funeral caisson of retired Coast Guard Chief Warrant Office Leroy Bent(ph) of New Smyrna, Florida. He was 89.

(Soundbite of horses)

CHADWICK: It seemed a fitting place to spend a little time this week, with Veterans Day tomorrow and the election three days ago. The country is wondering about a war, and the consequences of so many wars are apparent here. The rows of gravestones in ordered formation, 320 of them, are casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan and we all know that number is going to get bigger.

The country is wondering about a war, and every two years we act, we vote. So on Election Day we came here for a while, and later that night we heard some of these voices.

Unidentified Man #1: We have already picked up three seats.

Unidentified Man #2: There was a strong headwind working against us.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California): The American people voted for a new direction to restore civility and bipartisanship in Washington, D.C.

Unidentified Man #3: His time as a United States senator is coming to close in the next two months.

Unidentified Man #4: We're all Americans. We go forward together. That's what we do in this country.

Unidentified Man #5: We will walk away from this job with nothing, nothing but thanks.

Senator-Elect JIM WEBB (Democrat, Virginia): We all go out, we vote, we argue, we vote.

Unidentified Man #6: Is this exciting or what?

Senator-Elect WEBB: But also I would like to say the votes are in and we won.

(Soundbite of "Taps")

CHADWICK: The ground where we stood in Arlington on Tuesday dips low enough to conceal the city of Washington, but we could see the Pentagon, its massive west face mute and impassive, showing nothing of the swift changes underway there too.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: What's changed today is the election's over, and the Democrats won.

Unidentified Man #7: It's been quite a time.

President BUSH: The timing is right for new leadership at the Pentagon.

Mr. DONALD RUMSFELD (Secretary of Defense): I have benefited greatly from criticism.

President BUSH: Don Rumsfeld has been a superb leader during a time of change.

Mr. RUMSFELD: At no time have I suffered a lack thereof.

President BUSH: I've asked Bob Gates to serve as the secretary of defense.

Mr. ROBERT GATES (Former CIA Director): Because so many of America's sons and daughters in our armed forces are in harms way...

President BUSH: He's a steady, solid leader.

Mr. GATES: ...I did not hesitate when the president asked me to return to duty.

(Soundbite of horses)

CHADWICK: The country is wondering about a war and this week voted to start making changes, but changes into what? No one knows. This program has been sharply critical of Democrats for their lack of ideas on Iraq, or I have been, anyway. That's not completely fair. A few Democrats have put out proposals. It's hard to see any of them leading to a happy ending, but it's not as though others are offering a lot of better plans. We're going to go on wondering about this war for some time. It's going to take a while.

I looked around Arlington National Cemetery on Tuesday. So many fields full of headstones already, and still others bare and waiting.

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