For many years, Vikki and Mark Pier would come over Memorial Day weekend to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, where they would visit the final resting place of their son, Marine Lance Cpl. Noah Miles Pier, who was killed on February 16, 2010, while fighting in Afghanistan.
The Piers said they had no words to describe how they felt when they found out Noah was killed. Beyond heartbroken or devastated, they said. But when Marine Corps officials asked where they would like to bury their son, they knew exactly where: Arlington.
“Mark and I had no hesitation in choosing that this was the most suitable place for Noah to be because he loved the story,” said Vikki. “They said he could be buried in Arlington, or in a cemetery of our choosing, and we chose Arlington because, you know, he was from there,” Mark added.
Noah spent the first 11 years of his life in Fairfax, Virginia, just 18 miles from the cemetery, before the family moved to Charlotte, NC. Mark and Vikki said that Noah was fascinated by American history when he was a child. He, too, had an insatiable thirst for adventure and a love of the outdoors. Those attributes combined with a long family history of military service: Noah had always dreamed of joining the Marine Corps.
The Piers made the six-hour drive from Charlotte to Arlington every few months after burying Noah, including over Memorial Day weekend, Mark and Vikki said. They set up chairs and sat on his grave for hours, reminiscing and reflecting. Vikki always hesitated when it was time to go.
“Mark told me something that I now say as a kind of mantra: ‘Vikki, you will never have enough time. There will never be enough time.’ Because he kept feeling that he needed more. I need more,” Vikki said. “It’s a good place to go, open up our chairs and sit down. So it’s very hard to leave.”
Mark and Vikki decided to move in with their four youngest children less than a year after Noah’s death. They moved to a small town about an hour west of Charlotte, maintaining regular trips to Arlington for several years.
Rachel Larue/US Army/Arlington National Cemetery
But the Piers were affected by a series of health problems, which made traveling to Arlington more difficult. Knowing they couldn’t see Noah’s grave as often as they wanted, Mark erected a monument on his property. And in recent years, the Piers family, all nine children and 12 grandchildren, have gathered at Mark and Vikki’s on Memorial Day.
They don’t see it as a party or an event to celebrate, but rather as a day of reflection. They hang the American flag high and write letters to Noah on red balloons. They play with the kids and cook some of Noah’s favorite foods and share stories.
“Memorial Day is not a day to celebrate,” said Mark. “But we came together as a family,” Vikki added.
It has been four years since they last visited Noah’s grave in Arlington.
It pains Mark and Vikki to have been out of the graveyard for so long. But they know that they will return as soon as possible. Vikki said she hopes she and Mark can make the trip for Noah’s birthday on July 28; he would have turned 38 this year.
“It breaks my heart,” Vikki said. “My heart is in Arlington. It is. I’m not physically there, but I wish I could go and hit the ground and sit with him.”
Former Cpl. Dustin Jones served with the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, from 2007 to 2010 with deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan. He served with Lance Cpl. Noah’s Pier.