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 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 at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
Harry, a British Army captain who has served twice in Afghanistan, laid a wreath at the grave of another veteran of that war, Army 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 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 JFK’s tombstone near the eternal flame, then stood at attention and bowed his head. Kennedy was assassinated 50 years ago in 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.”
Harry was capping his Washington visit at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, meeting fellow veterans being treated there, before flying to the 2013 Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colo., where more than 200 wounded servicemen and women from the U.S. and Britain will compete.
He opened his visit Thursday with the tour of an exhibition in Congress about land-mine removal, a cause embraced by his late mother, Princess Diana.
As he entered the rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building near the Capitol, the prince was greeted by a roar and shouts of “Harry!” from a crowd of about 500, nearly all of them women. They filled a roped-off hallway and stairway with a view of the exhibit, hoisting their cellphones and tablets to get a picture. Harry didn’t visibly react except to give what appeared to be a polite wave.
His escort, Sen. John McCain, said he told Harry, “I’ve never seen, in all the years I’ve been here, such an unbalanced gender crowd.”
The prince also made a previously unannounced visit to the White House, surprising military mothers and their children at an afternoon tea with 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.
For the prince, the Washington settings were a world away from the Afghanistan war zone, where he recently served for 20 weeks as a co-pilot gunner in an Apache attack helicopter. It was just as far removed from his hijinks in a Las Vegas hotel room last summer, when fuzzy photos got out of a naked Harry playing strip billiards.
At a glittering British diplomatic dinner Thursday night, Harry invoked the memory of his mother and her work with the mine-clearing HALO Trust charity, which he also supports.
“My mother, who believed passionately in this cause, would be proud of my association with HALO,” he said. “In her special way, she adopted it as her own. She would join me — along with all of you, I’m sure — in praising HALO for the amazing work that it has done over the past quarter-century, and in hoping that one day soon its humanitarian work will be done.”
Diana highlighted the trust’s work when she was pictured wearing a face mask and protective clothing during a visit to a minefield being cleared by the organization in Angola in 1997. Her son said that at any one time, the group has 7,000 people deployed in the field, “striving to protect people and banish the fear that pervades the lives of millions around the world.”
Harry will also visit parts of New Jersey afflicted by Superstorm Sandy and stop for events in New York City before capping his visit by playing in the Sentebale Polo Cup match in Greenwich, Conn., on Wednesday.
Follow WNEW on Twitter.
(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)