Washington DC trip — July 2011 — Arlington National Cemetery

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First of all, I’d like to advise you that if you go to DC in July, you are going to be sweating bullets!!  Temps were about 95 to 100 degrees and humidity was wretched. Water, water and more water is the order of the day.

Our first stop was Arlington National Cemetery.  In spite of the heat and humidity, there were throngs of people waiting to experience the Cemetery.  We only had about an hour and a half to see as much as we could, which really isn’t very long.  I would think that at the very least, one full day should be devoted to Arlington. We took a trolley tour that hit the highlights, but you only had time to take a couple quick pics and then hop back on the trolley.  You see pictures of  Arlington on TV or in books or magazines, but you need to see it in person to appreciate it.

Arlington National Cemetery had very humble beginnings.  During and after the Civil War, cemeteries were  burying more and more soldiers and were quickly running out of room. In addition,  there were many families that were too poor to have their loved one shipped home. As a last resort, they started burying soldiers at Arlington.

Arlington National Cemetery encompasses 612 acres.  As of May 2011, there were over 300,000 interred in the cemetery.  There are 27 burials per day, on average.  While we were there, we heard 3 different 21 gun salutes and saw a very large funeral  procession; six horses pulling a black artillery caisson, upon which a flag draped casket had been placed, followed by a riderless horse, which I believe is reserved for officers above colonel. The rhythmic “clip clopping” of the horses hooves as they pulled the caisson echoed on the pavement as a reminder that this is a solemn and sacred place. Visitors are asked to please be quiet and respectful if you happen upon a procession such as this and I can’t imagine anybody doing anything else.   The men and horses who train constantly for this duty are members of “The Old Guard“, also known as the Caisson platoon of the 3rd United States Infantry.

I found it interesting that the headstones that come to mind when you think of Arlington are not the only markers in the cemetery.  At the family’s expense, a personalized marker can be placed on their loved one’s grave.

BTW, the house in the far background is the Arlington House, owned by Robert E. Lee and his wife Mary.

President John F Kennedy‘s slate grave marker and Eternal Flame.  Jackie’s marker is just to the right of the President’s.  There is also a slate marker where two Kennedy infants are buried.

Senator Robert F Kennedy‘s plain cross marker.  I remember JFK’s assassination but I was in 4th grade when it happened.  RFK’s assassination made a bigger impact on me, I was in 8th grade and more aware of the world around me.

The Columbia was another “where were you when it happened” event.  I was on my way from work, about 1:00 in the afternoon to pick up Jodie at school because she was ill and I heard it on the car radio.  I was so stunned that this could happen, it was quite a few seconds before I remembered that I was driving on an interstate highway and needed to pay attention to what I was doing.

I searched for an aerial photo of Arlington Cemetery to show just how large it is.  No luck, but I did find this file photo showing the density of the markers.  Seeing and reading the names on the stones really brought home the fact that these are real veterans that are buried here.  For some reason, I had it in my head that the stones were plain. Duh.

A visit to Arlington should leave you with overwhelming feelings of respect, horror at the incredible loss of life, empathy for the families that lost these loved ones, and gratitude for the ultimate sacrifice that these heroes gave. At the very least, feelings of alternating sorrow and pride should be bubbling up inside.  I can’t imagine anybody leaving any other way.

Finally, our bus trip to DC was one day traveling down, one day sightseeing, and one day traveling back.  Sincerely, you need at least 4 or 5 days to see everything, and even then there will be things that you will miss.  We enjoyed it but would love to go back again with a laundry list of other things we’d like to do.

Museums and monuments are on deck!!

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