A Child's Pilgrimage
Photography by Pete Marovich
For many of those who have not served in the military or have relatives who did, Memorial Day is mostly about picnics and hot dogs. Of course, everyone knows that it is a day to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country, but without a direct connection, it is probably not in the forefront of their minds as they head to the beach or take part in family gatherings.
For others, especially those who make the pilgrimage to Section 60 in Arlington National Cemetery, it has a much more personal and deeper meaning. Section 60, a 14-acre plot in the southeastern part of the cemetery, is the final resting place for military personnel killed in the global war on terror that began in 2001.
Thousands arrive over the Memorial Day weekend to visit the graves of friends and family interred there. Some gather in groups of lawn chairs among the gravesites where they retell stories if their loved ones. Others sit in quiet contemplation, getting as close as possible to the headstones.
Trinkets and mementos — photographs. remembrance stones, cans of beer or bottles of liquor — serve as testaments that loved ones have not been forgotten.
I met Brittany Jacobs in Section 60 on Memorial Day 2012. It was the first time she had seen her late husband’s headstone. When I first saw her, she was crying as she clutched her 17-month-old son Christian at the gravesite.
Jacobs’ husband, Marine Sgt. Christopher Jacobs, 29, died on Oct. 24, 2011, during a training exercise at the Marine Corps’ desert warfare training base at Twentynine Palms, CA. Jacobs, who had survived combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, was killed when the amphibious assault vehicle he was in slipped into a ravine.
Her son, Christian, was just eight months old at the time.
Since that initial meeting in 2012, I have seen Brittany and Christopher every year at Arlington.
In 2012, Christian wore a replica Marine Corps desert-camo uniform, and up until 2019 he visited his father’s gravesite in a dress blues uniform.
Over the years, Christian and Brittany have become well known at Section 60. Christian has a tendency to walk up to others in uniform to tell them about his dad. Not one to be shy, he does not seem to take notice of the high rank of some of the military personnel that he approaches. In 2017, he strolled right past a Secret Service agent and up to President Trump and Vice President Pence to ask if they wanted to meet his dad and then walked them over to the headstone.
The scene at Arlington in 2020 was quite different. The COVID-19 pandemic kept many families away. There were no large gatherings at headstones, just small groups of 2 or 3, in most cases, to adhere to the social distancing guidelines as much as possible. Most wore masks the entire time, while other just put them on when in the presence of others.
Christian, not wearing his dress blues, was less of an attraction, and some who had seen him every year did not recognize him at first. The only VIP that Christian spoke with was Gen. David L. Goldfein, U.S. Air Force chief of staff. As usual, Christopher went up to him and asked if they could take a picture together at his father’s gravesite. Gen. Goldfein, of course, obliged and after asking Christian to tell him about his father, presented him with a challenge coin.
Christian has quite a collection of challenge coins.
“A Child’s Pilgrimage” is an ongoing project documenting Christian and Brittany Jacobs as they strive to preserve the memory of Marine Sgt. Christopher Jacobs.
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