Lucia said she never thought we’d spend the entire day at Arlington National Cemetery. And still not be able to take it in. The cemetery was her highlight. It was mine too. It’s hard to explain.
There was something about that place that caused you to linger and ponder. It’s been two months since visiting, and we still talk about it. It was the highlight of the D.C. trip.
Maybe it was similar to the Vietnam Memorial, as well as all the other memorials for death. Though the Vietnam Memorial was staggering in a condensed, succinct way, Arlington was staggering in a grand and immense way.
There were a lot of names that were recognizable. Presidents, old battle heroes, congressmen, judges, and people who found fame in other ways like inventors and movie stars. The Vietnam Memorial was profound through anonymity while Arlington had that but it also had notoriety.
You’re standing in a field of omnipresent crosses that represent souls who gave their lives for a cause that seems mostly forgotten in our day. North, south, east, and west were crosses. Row upon row. Thousands upon thousands. And for all those who died and were buried on foreign soil or whose names are lost to all but God, there is the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It represents the branches of our military and is guarded night and day, every day of the year.
We happened to be at the Tomb of the Unknown for three events. It was a wonderful trifecta. Every thirty minutes during the summer the guards are changed. It’s about a ten-minute process. We saw that at least three times, I think.
The Prime Minister of India also showed up to lay a wreath on the tomb. That took over an hour from prep to finish. There were scores of photographers and videographers. Our military was there, about 150 men and women I suppose. Flags, brass, horns, and ceremony. It was good to see. Of course, it made international news, especially in India.
Later there was the exchanging of the “normal” wreath at the tomb, which they do five to six times a day during the summer. Your group could sign up to do this. There were four kids from a school that was part of the ceremony. That was really cool. They walked down with the guards to where the soldiers were marching and the wreath was located and replaced the old with a new one.
There was a huge amphitheater attached to the tomb area (on the backside) that holds about 5000 people. It was filled on Memorial Day, so said a gentleman I was talking to.
They are lots of directions and information that lets you see the graves of famous people. The most popular one is the grave of JFK where they have the “eternal flame”. Jackie’s body is there, as well as two infant children. His area was large with a flat, open space for gathering, resting or taking pics of D.C.
Down below, on the side of the hill, are the graves of Bobby and Teddy. Interestingly, their markers are super small, probably as small as any markers in the cemetery. Further up the hill is the mansion of the folks who owned the acreage of the current cemetery. There was a lot of history and a tour. We took the tour. Robert E. Lee was part of this family.
We were some of the last people to leave Arlington. By the time we walked to our van, they had closed. Lucia and I would like to have stayed longer. There was a lot to see and lot to think about. Sobering and impressive are the first two words that come to mind. There is something about the sacrifice of life that stirs the soul, and this is a soul-stirring place.
You can buy a trolley ticket and ride around the cemetery, getting off at popular points, staying as long as you want to, and getting on the next trolley that comes back to the designated spots. They cycle through the grounds throughout the day.
Though the walking was horrible for my sciatica, it was good for the exercise. There was one point where we took the most direct route to the Unknown and was rerouted because of the high security due to the Prime Minister. We got close to the Tomb area but had to go back around because of the heightened security. If we had arrived at that point two minutes earlier, we could have passed. Oh well. More walking. More exercise.
The weather was fine. It was hot but not unbearable. There were plenty of trees and water stops to refill our bottles.
A memorable day.