Monday, May 18, 2009

An Afternoon at Arlington - The Cemetery and The Home

Our history tour continues with the day we spent at Arlington National Cemetery and Arlington House, also called the Lee Memorial. We've both visited here before, but felt compelled to go again. We found our way across Arlington Memorial Bridge over the Potomac, into the entrance where we were reminded that you must park outside the gates in a pay lot if you don't have the forms proving that you have a relative buried in the cemetery. Paying to park at a national cemetery was a little offensive to us, but, oh well, here we are. We entered via the visitors center and decided to purchase tour tickets so that we could take advantage of the bus transportation and guide commentary. As we entered, it was nice to notice the busloads of teenagers on high school trips learning about their heritage. Then, we boarded the bus that stops at the major interest points, the Kennedy tomb, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
and Lee's Home. You can walk from
any of these points throughout the cemetery and reboard circulating buses at any stop.

We spent time watching the mesmerizing changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It's one of those sites that makes everyone respectful, thoughtful and thankful. The inscription on the tomb says it all: ""Here Rests In Honored Glory An American Soldier Known But To God."

The Tomb of the Unknowns has been guarded continuously, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, since July 2, 1937, by a special platoon within the 3rd U. S. Infantry Regiment. A guard takes an average of 6 hours to prepare his uniform, which is solid wool regardless of the time of year. Tomb Guards are required to memorize 16 pages of information about Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, including the locations of nearly 300 graves and who is buried in each one. It is considered one of the highest honors to serve as a sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Less than 20% of all volunteers are accepted for training and of those only a fraction pass training to become full-fledged Tomb Guards.

After seeing the young men go through their paces and exchange duty at the Tomb, we took a walk in the vicinity. We wanted to see just a few of the other 300,000 buried there. These include many other graves marked "unknown." For instance, here's the section in which 163 of the soldiers and marines killed in the explosion of the U. S. S. Maine in the Havana, Cuba Harbor in 1898. This event spurred the Spanish American War that resulted in the U. S. acquiring Cuba. Also in nearby is a monument to the astronauts killed in the space shuttle Challenger in 1986, a shocking and sad event that most of us recall. As we walked further we came upon the impressive memorial placed by Canada honoring the soldiers that fought and died before the U.S. became involved in WWII. There are any number of memorials in Arlington that can make you stop and think of the people involved and the service they rendered.

But soon it was time for us to board the bus to our next stop, The Arlington House. We enjoyed walking through the home and grounds built by George Washington's step-grandson, whose daughter married General Robert E. Lee. Their family lived in this mansion perched overlooking Washington, D.C. Our photo on the right is of the view from the front yard. (The tomb in the photo is that of Pierre L'Enfant who designed Washington, D. C. in 1791).

Here at the Arlington House, Lee made his difficult decision at the beginning of the Civil War to support Virginia and the Confederacy and to resign his U. S. Army commission. This homestead has quite a story. It involves confiscation of the property by the government for unpaid taxes during the war when Mrs. Lee was unable to pay the money in person.

The setting of the porch with it's massive stone pillars and the view of the country's seat of government tells one story. The slave quarters behind the home tell another one. There is also a museum on site with artifacts of the family.

Arlington House holds a multitude of tales. If you want to read more about it, click on the title of this blog post above.

As we exited the cemetery on our bus and came down the hill directly in front of the Arlington House, we saw the newest memorial, dedicated to Women in Military Service for America. It is said to be an outstanding tribute, but it was after closing time. So, we'll have to see it another time.

So went our latest event in the magical history tour. It was a day of reflection. As before, stay tuned for more!

1 comment:

Hi: Thanks for your thoughts.