Those who come to Arlington National Cemetery to visit not only the dead but their dead trod solitary paths. They peel away softly from the tourists on the crowded pathways and walk among the white gravestones until they come to where they want to be, with a relative, a friend. On Memorial Day weekend, many make that walk, remembering.

Lela P. Cooke, 73, of Washington, mother of Leon O. Cooke, killed in Korea on July 5, 1952 at the age of 21 . . .

"He was the youngest son I had. I had two. He was going to Dunbar. One of his friend begged him to go in the service. He stayed three years. He was coming out. But there was this talk about big money if he stayed. It sounded good to a boy of 20. So he stayed, yes he did.

"He was tall, six feet some, and he kept his brass right to the minute, kept everything just immaculate. He was always in parades . . . Something struck him, just blew him to pieces. He didn't know what struck him . . . I think I've gotten over it pretty well. Lord, I'm sorry."

She knelt and trimmed the high grass around the headstone with a pen knife. She left yellow tulips.

"It was a Sunday, I'll never forget it. I had gone out to the country. When I got home there was a notice that the telegraph man had been there. I called out to the telegraph office and the man brought it back that some night . . .

"He always wanted me to sign for him to get married. I never would. As soon as he got to be 21, he got married. He's got a son named after him. He lives in Alexandria, La. I remember I went to Louisiana in April, 1953; that's when they were finding soldiers living that they thought were dead. I was sitting down there with his wife and baby and I asked, 'Lord, why can't he be found?'

"The boy, he's nice looking young man now. About 24:1 I think he favors his father."

Carrol and Lois Jones of Culver City, Calif., friends of Gilles David Adams, killed in Vietnam on March 15, 1968 at the age of 22 . . .

Jones, a retired Army major, and his wife walked up the grassy incline among the headstones until they reached the road. They looked back at Section 31 and all the white markers there, and took a picture.

Gilles David Adams was the son of a good friend of theirs, another Army officer. He was a friend of their two sons, and a friend of theirs.

"He went in the medical corps," Carrol Jones said. "He didn't want to bear arms. He was out in the field taking care of the wounded and the Vietcong moved in."

The future had held much promise for him. "He was brilliant. He was in his junior year of college. I don't know if he was drafted or volunteered. He was a good kid - in every respect."

Patrick W. Cady, William Przybyszewski and Bill O'Donnell, members of the Fleet Reserve Association, an organization of active and retired Navy. Marine Corps, and Coast Guard personnel, honoring 18 deceased members of their local branch . . .

The three men, wearing their association caps, walked quickly among the graves, following the identification numbers on the backs of the stones until they found their "departed shipmates." They carried blue association flags, which they put in the ground next to the American flags that decorated every grave for the holiday. Flags are not permitted on graves at any other time.

They stopped at a Navy man's grave, a man from Ohio who had served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He died Dec. 23, 1971.

"I went to his funeral," Cady said. "Hell of a Christmas present, that's what I remember thinking."

They moved up a hill, stopped at another grave, came down the hill, and walked a long way across flat ground with the sun beating down until they came to a Missouri man's grave, another Navy man, O'Donnell had known him.

"Very big fellow, Snow White hair ever since his early 30s. A good golfer.I was stationed with him at NATO headquarters in Naples in the early 50's and at the naval communicatins station on Guam.

"He met me when I first got to Naples. He was one of the ones who went out of his way to greet people. Same thing on Guam. My wife came in later, and I was busy on Navy business. He drove up to the airport to get her . . .

"He went aroung at Christmas as Santa Claus for the dependent kids in Naples . . ."

Cady took a knife and cut the bottom off the stick of the association flag so that it would stand no higher than the American flag. Then they paused silently, and moved on.

An aunt of 23-year-old who died in Korea. Shea asked that their names not be used . . .

"This way my love, here. We didn't have children and he was such a sweetheart. We hated to give him up. It was just one of those things. He died trying to save someone else.

"They had been up front. They were on weekend retreat and passed by this river. There was someone grasping for help. But he was no swimmer. He was a swimmer like I am . . .

"He was so outgoing.He never called on a girl that he didn't want to see and talk to the older people. The grandmothers and and aunts loved him.

"He was just in for the time. He planned to finish college. He was a wonderful salesman. He sold cars before he left. He probably would have been in sales. He loved people, and he made a study of what he was selling. He knew it A to Z."

She left fresh red roses.

Carey D. Lowrey, 55, of Washington, brother of George W. Lowery, killed in World War II on July 23, 1944, at the age of 22 . . .

"I got miles and miles of cemetery to travel between now and Monday. I've got to go to Maryland; my mother and second brother are buried in Harmony Cemetery. I have an aunt here in Section 25." And still another brother, John who also served in World War II, rests five rows from George. Carey is the last of the four brothers.

He wished he had known George better. "We played together. But most of the time I played with different boys. Things just passed over the years. I didn't get a chance to know him real well."

He talked about George and John. "Neither married. They dont have any family but me. So I'll come as long as I can. When I can't they'll just have a flag."

He left red roses in a jar of water on the two graves.

Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Eshelman of Alexandria, parents of Arthur Ridgeway Eshelman, who died in 1973 at the age of 24 . . .

"I was in the Navy," Ralph Eshelman said. "We were two years in Newfoundland, then we came here to Washington. He went to Prince George's Community College. Then he decided to go in the service. He was in Army intelligence, specialist 5th class. He served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1971." He died of cancer.

His mother fixed a large bouquet on the grave. There were other family members there, including a small boy in blue suit, Arthur Ridgeway Eshelman's son. "He was 18 months old when his father died," Mrs. Eshelman said. She smiled. There were tears in her eyes.

Mr. and Mrs. John Cottrell of Washington, parents of Larry M. Cottrell, who died of a heart attack in Germany Sept. 8, 1973, at the age of 21 . . .

The cause of his death shocked them. "There was no heart trouble in my family," his mother said."It was a weekend and they were swimming, he and his company.

"He had an outgoing personality. Everybody liked him. He went to Kramer Junior High School and a military academy in Richmond. He was a likeable child. He always felt it was his duty to help his fellow friends. He went in in 1972."

His father, too filled with grief to speak, could not hold back tears.

Romaine Darden of Washington, sister of Claude Darden, killed in Vietnam in 1968 at the age og 19 . . .

"He was gung-ho about the Marine Corps. He went to Roosevelt. Then he wanted to enlist in the Marines. So my parents had sign for him . . .

"We used to fight all the time. We didn't get close until he joined the Marines. He wasn't a little boy anymore.

"He came home after basic training. He came home that summer, 1967. He wanted to go to Vietnam, and they shipped him over in December, 1967.

"I knew guys who had been killed, wounded over there. Mom said she was going to try to keep him from going, because he was the only boyin the family. We had five girls, one boy. He said no. He was quite upset, her thinking about that."

She said he died on a reconnaisance mission, just three weeks after he got there.