"I just thought about this little boy's mom and the fact that she sent her 16-year-old son out for a night with his friends and he got into a car accident and never came home," Alison says. "It was the hardest thing for me."
Her grandfather and her friends encouraged her to stick out her semester abroad. She did. She considers the experience one of the greatest of her life.
'She's setting an example'
Wearing a navy sundress and white blazer, Alison exudes poise and confidence inside Sen. Shelby's office in the Russell Federal Building, where she interned this summer.
The senior senator from Alabama says he's proud of her father "and what he stood for." He's equally proud of the young woman she's become.
"She's strong. She's steadfast. She has purpose and she's setting an example out there," Shelby says. "If her father was here, he'd be proud of her."
Alison is being put through college with the help of the CIA Officers Memorial Foundation and the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, nonprofit groups that use private donations to help children of those killed serving the nation.
She's majoring in communications and political science. She's thought of becoming a news anchor but isn't so sure now. There's still time to figure out what lies ahead.
Her parents taught her to be driven -- to chase her dreams. "When I feel there's an obstacle I can't overcome or something's too hard or I'm not good enough for something, I think about, 'You know my dad thought I could do it. My mom thought I could do it. So I know I can do it.'"
Children of the fallen, she says, should consider the fact that their parents can't live out their lives, so they should follow their own dreams.
"I think back on my mom and dad, and all the obstacles that they were able to get through in life and just how strong and determined they were. I want to live my life for them."
Interning in Washington allowed her to make weekly visits to Arlington. "Most cemeteries scare me, but I've never been scared here."
Small pebbles sit atop her father's grave -- a token of love and appreciation left by people she's never met. It's nice to know, she says, that others still miss him, too.
On summer days, when the wind whips her hair and the oak leaves rustle, she can sense her father's presence. She tells him she loves him.
She once read a note left by a widow on another grave. It said, "If love could've saved you, you would've lived forever."
She thinks back on that note, she says, because it applies to her father, too.
On this day, she walks down Grant Drive, hooks around onto another road and walks through the McClellan Arch, once the cemetery's main entrance. There on the arch is the message relayed to her by her father so many years before:
Rest on embalmed and sainted dead, Dear as the blood ye gave, No impious footsteps here shall tread On the herbage of your grave.
Alison leaves alone. A legacy of her parents. A legacy of war.