Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas spoke to more than 100 people at the Kirby Center on April 9. Cotton, a veteran of the U.S. Army, spoke on his new book “Sacred Duty: A Soldier’s Tour of Arlington National Cemetery.” Alex Nester | Col­legian

“After a while my hand began to hurt from pushing in the pointed gold tips of the flags into the hard ground,” Senator Tom Cotton (R‑Arkansas) said to a crowd of more than 100 people at the Allan P. Kirby Jr. Center for Con­sti­tu­tional Studies and Cit­i­zenship in Wash­ington, D.C. on April 9. “They asked if I was using a bottle cap, and I said, ‘No.’ Appar­ently, missing a bottle cap is like missing your rifle or night vision goggles in combat in Iraq.”

Cotton, a senator since 2015, spoke about his new book, “Sacred Duty: A Soldier’s Tour of Arlington National Cemetery.” A veteran of the United States Army, Cotton was deployed in Iraq and later Afghanistan. Cotton is a Bronze Star Medal recipient.

Between his deploy­ments, Cotton also served in the 3rd U.S. Infantry Reg­iment, also known as the Old Guard, the oldest reg­iment in the United States. The Old Guard is tasked with per­forming mil­itary funerals at Arlington National Cemetery.

“Funerals always come first for the old guard. Funerals are just a no-fail, zero defect mission,” Cotton said.

The Old Guard con­siders funerals at Arlington Cemetery to be just as important as active combat mis­sions, Cotton said.

“As much as we do those funerals — and we do hun­dreds — the desire to achieve per­fection for those fam­ilies never relented,” he said.

According to Cotton, even as American Air­lines Flight 77 crashed into the Pen­tagon on 9/11 — spewing debris across Arlington Cemetery — the funerals con­tinued throughout the day.  

“There is pressure to perform our sacred duty to honor America’s heroes,” Cotton said.

After Cotton grad­uated from Harvard, where he attended both under­graduate and law school, he began working for McK­insey & Company before entering the United States Army.

Junior Sam Ziolkowski, who is interning for Cotton while on the Wash­ington-Hillsdale Internship Program, said Cotton strives to serve his con­stituents in all he does.

“Cotton epit­o­mizes what every GOP senator ought to strive for in higher pol­itics. He pri­or­i­tizes his con­stituents’ con­cerns, and I think that’s evi­denced by his strong strong stance on national security,” Ziolkowski said. “His book is espe­cially com­pelling in that it’s an apo­litical telling of the sac­ri­fices and history of the Old Guard. Senator Cotton is the ideal man to illus­trate their dis­tinc­tions.”

Cotton recounted the history of the land which is now Arlington National Cemetery. George Wash­ington Parke Custis, step-grandson of George Wash­ington, inherited the land after his father’s death. Custis willed the land to his daughter, Mary, who married Robert E. Lee. The Lee family left the land during the Civil War, which the Union Army occupied and used to bury fallen Union sol­diers. George Wash­ington Custis Lee, the son of Mary and Robert, sued the United States for the land he right­fully inherited. He won at the Supreme Court but accepted $150,000 from the United States in exchange for the land. None other than Sec­retary of War Robert Todd Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln, accepted the deed for Arlington.

Thus, Arlington became the National Cemetery.

“It was truly a won­derful expe­rience. It is always an honor to have a sitting US senator come and join the Hillsdale College family,” Josh Orlaski ’18 said. “It was really a touching expe­rience to hear him share stories about how he was able to honor our brave men and women who served our country and paid the ultimate price.”