I guess it would not really be something you planned for a family vacation, it was something spontaneous. But I am so glad we did it.

A kind local recommended that we drive over to Cabrillo National Monument in Point Loma, California (http://www.nps.gov/cabr/) so that is what we did. After playing a long time on the rocks and cliffs and tidepools and spending probably close to an hour just staring out into the foamy green ocean, we started back. Lining the road to either side were hundreds, or maybe thousands of military graves, each marked with a perfect white stone in neat rows. On a whim, I asked that we pull over into one of the cemetery areas on a green hill, overlooking the ocean. I had realized that my children had never been to a cemetery.

The roar of the ocean, along with the matching drone of various military jets and helicopters, were the only sounds as we walked slowly, looking at the headstones and reading the names and dates and military affiliations. So many.

There were men who lived to ripe old ages, and were honored to be able to choose to be buried there. There were their wives, and in more than a few cases, babies of less than a year old. There was a whole section of those who were buried at sea, or whose remains were never found. My son wanted to know if these were all the people ever killed in all the wars in the world. My daughter asked if her grandfather was in there, somewhere, and if I would die someday and be buried there.

The oldest person we found was a veteran of the Spanish-American War, born in 1871. A few rows over, my daughter spotted a fresh bouquet of colorful flowers laying across a grave, and ran over to them. The stone belonged to a young man named Jason, born in 1982, died in 2007, killed in Iraq. The card on the flowers, smudged only slightly from the rain, was addressed to him:

"Dearest Jason, We love and miss you so much, and are so deeply proud of your service and sacrifice. Every day is so hard without you, but we know you are safe now."

His flowers had fallen out of their small cup of water, a forest-green cone stuck into the ground near his stone, so MissSix and I picked them up and straightened them and my daughter patted the ground before we left, probably without even thinking.

Whatever your political affiliation or how you feel about the military, it is hard not to feel moved by this place, to know that all these lives were irreparably changed by wars. The living walk above and touch the numbers and letters on the cool smooth stones, as the ocean waves roll in, endlessly.