Arlington Cemetery sits across the Potomac River from Washington, DC. It seems very fitting, given that the majority of the men and women who are interred at Arlington gave their lives in the service of this nation.
Arlington is a somber, yet serene, memorial to those who served the United States, as well as, in some cases, the spouses of those who served.
When we went on Friday, December 23, many of the headstones were bedecked with green wreaths with red ribbons, in honor of Christmas.
The majority of visitors on the day we visited went immediately to view the gravesite of John F. Kennedy, but I immediately sought out the section devoted to of those who fought in the Civil War. In particular, I wanted to find the headstone of James Harris, a private in the Union Forces, Company B of the 38th Regiment, U.S. Colored Troops, who was the first black man awarded the Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration. I had read about him and just felt the need to find his marker and acknowledge him.
Nearby, I found two other Medal of Honor winners.
After walking among the graves and reading the names aloud, I walked across the cemetery to the JFK gravesite, where he is buried alongside his young son who died and next to Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. The eternal flame burns above their graves. It’s a pretty impressive sight.
But perhaps the most moving site is the lone Marine guarding the Tomb of the Unknowns (also called the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, though there is no official title).
The guards who ceaselessly watch over this tomb have dedicated themselves to the task since 1926. The Sentinels who stand guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier are hand picked and rigorously trained. They have come from every state in the union, every walk of life. These are men and women who have devoted themselves to honoring the nation’s unknown dead. It’s a calling to which 80 percent of the applicants are denied. Watching the changing of the guards is a somber experience, and it filled me with pride. Can’t define it. Just felt it. Massive pride.
I like cemeteries. Always have. And Arlington is well worth a visit, if only to walk among the rows and say the names of those who died. Someone should say their names once in a while. It seems only right.
Here are more pictures from the visit: