Finding my mentor in Arlington National Cemetery

Walking through Arlington National Cemetery touches many emotions, but rarely does it feel personal. The names on stones are of those we’ve never met and seldom heard.

As the years pass, I know more people who are buried on General Robert E. Lee’s old plantation. My Aunt Butts and Uncle Charlie were buried there in 2014. Working on my family tree led me to a grand uncle buried near the back wall in 1945.

A teacher who may have been my favorite and provided lasting lessons was buried at Arlington recently. David Pennington acted like the West Virginia rinky-dinks that he called us in ninth grade at Eugene Burroughs Junior High in Accokeek, Md. where I grew up. He pretended to be a country boy who was a simple man that actually knew a whole lot. He made learning fun and sometimes terrifying, like the time he asked me following my report on Russia if prostitution was legal there. I didn’t know what the word meant and was tormented by classmates for a few minutes. You don’t forget things like that.

More importantly, I haven’t forgotten the list of 46 most-used prepositions he made us memorize and pledge never to end a sentence with. Just kidding there. You can’t end a sentence with a preposition like with. It’s a common error, but Mr. Pennington didn’t want us to act like West Virginia rinky-dinks.

Words like in, near and beside indicating location are prepositions. So are about, besides and after that have a relationship between the noun/pronoun and other parts of the sentence.

As a newspaper reporter/columnist for nearly 40 years, Mr. Pennington saved me from making many dumb mistakes by memorizing that list. I still remember those sweltering and freezing days in his temporary classroom that unlike today’s modern ones were really just metal boxes with no air conditioning or heat. It was Spartan and I think Mr. Pennington liked it that way.

Mr. Pennington’s remains are in court 9, N30, column 13, niche 1 where many permanent markers like his aren’t yet completed. It’s near Sections 60/61 that include recent deaths in the Middle East. It’s a long walk down the cemetery near the Pentagon and took me back to 1975 that was truly one of my wonder years.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Pennington. Your list of prepositions lives on with your students. I’ll try not to act like a rinky-dink, too.

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