Britain's Prince Harry visits Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery, where veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are buried, in Virginia on May 10, 2013. (AP PHOTO/Nicholas Kamm, Pool)
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WASHINGTON — Britain’s Prince Harry saluted America’s war dead in somber remembrance at Arlington National Cemetery on Friday, pausing, too, to place flowers on the tombstone of President John F. Kennedy and visit the grave of a British World War II hero buried far from home.
There were none of the shrieking throngs that greeted his arrival Thursday on Capitol Hill at the opening of his weeklong U.S. visit, only solemn reflection at gravesites and time-honored ceremony attended by hundreds at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
Harry, a British Army captain who has served twice in Afghanistan, capped the Washington portion of his trip with a visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, seeing the latest prosthetic technology and chatting with wounded warriors. From there it was on to Colorado Springs, Colo., for the 2013 Warrior Games. He’s to spend Saturday at the games, where more than 200 American and British veterans wounded in service are competing.
His two-day official visit in Washington was in no way like his decidedly unofficial romp in Las Vegas last summer when embarrassing photos leaked of a prince partying naked in a game of strip billiards. Harry’s itinerary is focused on his military ties and charitable works, and it got off to a crisply professional start.
Amid the rows of headstones at Arlington, the prince laid a wreath at the grave of soldier Michael L. Stansbery Jr., 21, of Mount Juliet, Tenn. He left a note reading: “To my comrades-in-arms of the United States of America, who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the cause of freedom. Captain Harry Wales.”
Stansbery, a Bronze Star and Purple Heart recipient, was killed July 30, 2010, by an improvised explosive device while on foot patrol in Afghanistan. His grave was chosen randomly for the prince’s honor, among thousands marking the resting places of the fallen from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
Elizabeth Jennings of Arlington was in Section 60 tending to the grave of her brother-in-law and unaware that Prince Harry was just a few feet away until she was told. “I think it’s really great that he’s paying his respects,” said Jennings, whose brother-in-law Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jonas Kelsall was killed in Afghanistan in 2011. “They’re all brothers-in-arms.”
After placing the wreath, Harry, in ceremonial Army uniform with a light-blue beret, saluted for several seconds, then walked through the rest of the section, pausing at the stones occasionally to read them.
On one knee, Harry placed flowers on Kennedy’s tombstone near the eternal flame, then stood at attention and bowed his head. Kennedy was assassinated 50 years ago this November.
The prince also paid his respects at the grave of the British officer, Major Gen. Orde Wingate, who created the Chindits, troops who fought behind enemy lines against the Japanese in World War II, developing guerrilla tactics familiar in today’s special forces. He died in the crash of a U.S. bomber in 1944. His remains and those of other crash victims, most American, were later moved to Arlington.
At the Tomb of the Unknowns, representing the unidentified dead of all American wars, hundreds gathered as the U.S. Army band, Pershing’s Own, played the national anthems of the U.S. and Britain, and the prince stepped forward to place a wreath of poppies. Harry then saluted as the “The Last Post” sounded. His handwritten note on the wreath read: “In grateful memory of all those who have given their lives in the cause of freedom.”
The prince offered comradeship and empathy to the wounded at Walter Reed, where officials introduced him to a high-tech treadmill that projects a virtual world on a screen and is used to help patients with posture, balance and pain.
“We’ve got nothing like this back in the U.K.” he said. “You guys as Americans are used to the technology; we are always behind.”
He sat on a bed and chatted with Staff Sgt. Tim Payne, 30, of Montana, injured by an IED in Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province. “We talked about how I got injured and that I like swimming,” Payne said after. “I told him I swim 4,000 meters a day and someday will swim the English Channel. Harry said, ‘That’s a crazy idea.’”
The prince opened his visit Thursday with a tour of an exhibition in Congress about land-mine removal, a cause embraced by his late mother, Princess Diana. He also surprised military mothers and their children at an unannounced visit to an afternoon tea at the White House hosted by first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden’s wife, Jill. The prince joined in helping the kids make Mother’s Day gifts from tulip and rose bouquets, vegetable chips and edible dough jewelry.
Harry will also visit parts of New Jersey damaged by Superstorm Sandy and stop for events in New York City before ending his visit by playing in the Sentebale Polo Cup match in Greenwich, Conn., on Wednesday.