Of all the things to do in Washington DC, one of the places I was excited to visit was Arlington National Cemetery. Although it was incredibly hot, the trip was extremely worthwhile.
There is a great deal of parking, and pedestrian traffic is led through the Visitor’s Center at the beginning of the cemetery, which has a little gift shop, an information center, and an exhibit that features large photographs of significant moments in the cemetery’s history, along with explanatory text. The photos themselves are very overwhelming, but they barely come close to capturing the actual experience of stepping outside the doors and walking through the cemetery itself.
Arlington is the second largest national cemetery (the largest is on Long Island). Looking over a map of the cemetery, and considering the heat and the length of the kids’ patience, we decided to go to the more famed spots: the Kennedy gravestones, and both sites of the Unknown Soldiers tombs.
JFK’s site is moving, with an eternal flame that overlooks the Washington Monument across the Potomac River. The Civil War Unknown Soldiers vault contains 2,111 soldiers found across battlefields. During the Civil War, Arlington was the home to Robert Lee, and the mansion remains there to this day. He had vacated the property during the war, however, and it was used as a military base. Montgomery Meigs ordered that the unknown bodies be buried in Lee’s yard, essentially preventing the Lee family returning to their home again.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers was interesting to see, because we arrived right as they had a changing of the guards. One soldier from WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam are buried within.
The cemetery has a combination of regular gravestones as well as the uniform white military gravestones. Seeing the precise rows of white stones in such large numbers is very moving to behold. Photographs do not do them justice. A sense of quiet patriotism permeates the cemetery.