A group of mothers is transforming the quiet and hallowed ground at Arlington National Cemetery.
Their sons were killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, buried in the cemetery's Section 60. The graves are fresh — as is each mother's grief.
But the Section 60 Mothers meet and visit regularly in the cemetery, decorating their sons' graves and nearby trees with flowers, photographs, ribbons, candles, balloons — even wind chimes.
"These are our babies," says Gina Barnhurst, whose son Marine Lance Cpl. Eric Herzberg was killed in Iraq in 2006. "This is what we do for them."
Barnhurst is celebrating her son's birthday, his gravestone covered in flowers, balloons and cards.
Army Pfc. Justin Davis was killed on June 25, 2006, during combat operations in Korengal Outpost, Afghanistan. His mother, Paula, doesn't want her son to be forgotten and has decorated his grave with three photographs.
"I want people to see this young man and all his facets of life," she says.
Davis sits in a beach chair at her son's grave, using a huge umbrella to shield her from the sun. Barnhurst joins her and writes letters to her son. "It helps me feel still connected and close," she says.
Paula Davis, Gina Barnhurst and Beth Belle are charter members of a club no mother ever wants to join.
These women and others meet informally at Arlington National Cemetery. There, they sit at the gravesides of their sons who were killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. They also talk with each other. And cry. And listen.
They call themselves Section 60 Mothers, after the section at Arlington that holds the fresh graves of men and women killed in America's current wars. The group meets roughly every week now, with the help of an e-mail list.
But it's their deep wounds, they say, that have linked them together with deep bonds.
Amid Arlington's quiet, and its white headstones that stretch to the horizon, grieving mothers have built small shrines to their sons. There are ribbons in the trees and photographs leaning up against the stones.
But the cemetery is considered hallowed ground, and technically those shrines are against the rules at the cemetery.
Groundskeepers take them down every time they pass through. The mothers put them right back up. They come every week.
We've asked six Section 60 Mothers to describe their experience. Each of them has gone through the worst thing that could ever happen to a parent. And yet, as one mother told us, they lean on each other: "It's quite a family we have at Arlington."