“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.”