Child finds heaven in an unlikely place

ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, Va. - Children don't belong in grave yards. They're too full of life. But this is a very different grave yard. This is section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery where the dead from Iraq and Afghanistan lie buried.

CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports Nicki Bunting brings her sons Connor and Cooper here every Sunday.

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"Section 60 is very unique. It's not like any other cemetery you'll ever see," Nicki says. "In this specific section there's so many young people, young kids so we try to keep it a joyous place."

Her husband Brian's headstone, like so many here in Section 60, marks a life cut short, a young family torn apart. But two-year-old Cooper is proof life is stronger than death.

Nicki says Cooper was "our little R and R baby. He's the spitting image of my husband; it's really nice."

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Brian was home on a so-called rest and recreation tour in February of 2009. Shortly after he returned to Afghanistan he and three others were killed by a roadside bomb.

"At the time he was killed we didn't know we were pregnant," Nicki says. "Four days after I was notified of his death is when I found out that we were pregnant - so it was just such a miracle. It was the best news I could have ever received."

Nicki says Cooper actually took his first step at his father's grave. Nicki says he put his hand on the gravestone, "And then he just stepped. Uh-huh. It was amazing. It was remarkable. I couldn't believe it."

Connor, 4, is old enough to have some memory of this father, and seems to understand what this place means.

"Conner calls Arlington heaven," Nicki says, "so he's obviously a little confused with what's going on. But if he wants to think that this is heaven, that's fine." She adds, "This is where daddy is and I tell him daddy's in heaven. So, it makes sense."

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Veronica Ortiz's children are a little older. Their extended family drives six hours from North Carolina to spread out around the grave of her husband, Sgt. Javier Ortiz Rivera.

The first time she brought her son here, "I told him we're going to visit his dad and he came to the grave and he started knocking and saying, 'come out, daddy.'"

Veronica says she brings her children to Arlington, because "It's as close as I'm going to get to him." She says it helps them deal with the loss of their father.

"We've been here before when there's other funerals going on so they know that they're not the only ones. They know that they're not the only kids in the world who have gone through what we have."

Ashley Cutsforth drives four hours to bring her infant son Sean Junior to visit his father's grave.

"He was born exactly four months after Sean died," Ashley says, "I want him to be able to know that his dad is among the best."

Sean Junior doesn't know it yet, but he's been among the best since the moment he was born. Ashley says her husband's entire platoon showed up when he was born. "We had 30 plus soldiers in the delivery room. As soon as he was born they came right on in."

Section 60 is surely the most solemn place in America, but children do belong here. Their fathers couldn't defy death, but there is no more perfect expression of life than a baby's cry.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.