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Arlington Cemetery: America’s Military Shrine

Arlington National Cemetery, is the final resting place for many military personnel from conflicts that include Iraq, Afghanistan, both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War and the American Civil War.

Arlington National Cemetery, is the final resting place for many military personnel from conflicts that include Iraq, Afghanistan, both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War and the American Civil War.

MEMORIAL DAY, USA | Darrin Henry

Memorial Day in the USA is a public holiday held every year on the last Monday in May, created to remember those who gave their lives in the American Civil War (1861-1865) but in the years since has been widened to include all subsequent conflicts.

Arlington, Virginia

Memorial Day started out as “Decoration Day” on 30 May, 1868, marked by a ceremony in Arlington National Cemetery; the term “Memorial Day” then becoming popular from 1882.

The rows of white headstones in Arlington have today become one of the iconic images of the US. While visiting Washington DC in 2015, we took the short subway ride to Arlington Metro station and spent the afternoon exploring the historic burial site.

The Arlington National Cemetery, in Virginia, is the USA's largest military burial ground and serves as the final resting place for more than 400,000 active duty military, veterans and their immediate families.

The Arlington National Cemetery, in Virginia, is the USA’s largest military burial ground and serves as the final resting place for more than 400,000 active duty military, veterans and their immediate families.

The classic sight of Arlington National Cemetery, that has become famous the world over - the rows and rows of white headstones against a carpet of green grass. The cemetery takes up 624 acres of land.

The classic sight of Arlington National Cemetery, that has become famous the world over – the rows and rows of white headstones against a carpet of green grass. The cemetery takes up 624 acres of land.

Arlington National Cemetery is huge. It has a visitor map to help you find your way around and the different burial areas are divided into 'Sections' which number at least 76.

Arlington National Cemetery is huge. It has a visitor map to help you find your way around and the different burial areas are divided into ‘Sections’ which number at least 76.

Arlington National Cemetery, is sprawled across high ground, giving great views of central Washington DC just over the Potomac River. This picture shows President John F Kennedy's grave in the foreground, Memorial Avenue outside the cemetery leading to the Lincoln Memorial in the distance. The spire of the Washington Monument is clearly visible off to the right.

Arlington National Cemetery, is sprawled across high ground, giving great views of central Washington DC just over the Potomac River. This picture shows President John F Kennedy’s grave in the foreground, Memorial Avenue outside the cemetery leading to the Lincoln Memorial in the distance. The spire of the Washington Monument is clearly visible off to the right.

One of the tour buses that can be taken around Arlington National Cemetery.

One of the tour buses that can be taken around Arlington National Cemetery.

The first thing we realised is that Arlington is huge! There are even tour buses (shuttles, as the Americans call them) that set off from the entrance area to save walking. We decided to do it on foot, a much better way we felt to absorb the place.

The cemetery takes up 624 acres of elevated land, chosen as it would be clear of potential flooding. Arlington’s address is the state of Virginia, but it’s right on the state line with Washington DC on the other side of the Potomac River, with a clear view of the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and other well known monuments.

In fact it’s a great place to get a sense of the size and layout of Washington and you quickly realise how compact the central attractions are. The low slung profile of the Pentagon can easily be seen from one of the hill tops in the cemetery.

The low lying profile of the Pentagon can be seen from inside Arlington National Cemetery.

The low lying profile of the Pentagon can be seen from inside Arlington National Cemetery.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The focal point of Arlington is the 1,500-seater, Arlington Memorial Amphitheatre, made of white marble that is quite blinding in the bright summer sun. The ‘Tomb of the Unknown’ also forms part of the Amphitheatre, which is guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year by sentinels of the US Army, as it has been since 2 July, 1937. The guards are as perfectly immaculate and mechanised as if they were life sized toy soldiers. Their 21 pace marching ritual, back and forth, in front of the ‘Tomb of the Unknown’ is a captivating spectacle.

Also part of the Amphitheatre is an interesting visitor centre.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is one of Arlington Cemetery's most well-known memorials. It contains the remains of unknown service members from World War I, World War II and the Korean War. Soldiers from the 3rd US Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) keep a 24 hour-a-day, 365 days-a-year vigil at the Tomb. There is a very ceremonial changing of the guard every hour (or half hour 1 April to 30 September).

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is one of Arlington Cemetery’s most well-known memorials. It contains the remains of unknown service members from World War I, World War II and the Korean War. Soldiers from the 3rd US Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) keep a 24 hour-a-day, 365 days-a-year vigil at the Tomb. There is a very ceremonial changing of the guard every hour (or half hour 1 April to 30 September).

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is one of Arlington Cemetery's most well-known memorials. It contains the remains of unknown service members from World War I, World War II and the Korean War. Soldiers from the 3rd US Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) keep a 24 hour-a-day, 365 days-a-year vigil at the Tomb. There is a very ceremonial changing of the guard every hour (or half hour 1 April to 30 September).

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is one of Arlington Cemetery’s most well-known memorials. It contains the remains of unknown service members from World War I, World War II and the Korean War. Soldiers from the 3rd US Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) keep a 24 hour-a-day, 365 days-a-year vigil at the Tomb. There is a very ceremonial changing of the guard every hour (or half hour 1 April to 30 September).

Inside the visitor centre or display room at the Memorial Amphitheatre in Arlington, Virginia.

Inside the visitor centre or display room at the Memorial Amphitheatre in Arlington, Virginia.

Some of the items on display inside the visitor centre at the Memorial Amphitheatre in Arlington, Virginia.

Some of the items on display inside the visitor centre at the Memorial Amphitheatre in Arlington, Virginia.

Inside the visitor centre at the Memorial Amphitheatre at Arlington Cemetery.

Inside the visitor centre at the Memorial Amphitheatre at Arlington Cemetery.

On Memorial Day and Veterans Day, thousands of visitors attend remembrance services in the Memorial Amphitheatre in Arlington National Cemetery. These special services are often attended by the President or Vice President of the United States.

On Memorial Day and Veterans Day, thousands of visitors attend remembrance services in the Memorial Amphitheatre in Arlington National Cemetery. These special services are often attended by the President or Vice President of the United States.

On the day we visited the Memorial Amphitheatre in Arlington it was sweltering hot. The white marble is also dazzling in the in the summer sunshine.

On the day we visited the Memorial Amphitheatre in Arlington it was sweltering hot. The white marble is also dazzling in the in the summer sunshine.

Incredibly, 27-30 funerals take place at Arlington every weekday. That’s around 6,900 burials each year. It’s the second largest burial ground in the US and the largest military cemetery. The property has been expanded many times since the cemetery was established and the first military burial on 13 May, 1864, to meet the demand of burial plots. Today, Arlington is now the final resting place for 400,000 military personnel and their immediate family. There is a strict eligibility criteria for interment and inurnment at Arlington.

Who Is Buried In Arlington Cemetery?

Arlington is also the final resting place of many prominent figures from America’s military history. These names include Marguerite Higgins, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and only female correspondent during the Korean War; Adolphus W Greely, the Arctic explorer (1881) and a founder of the National Geographic Society; Lt Col Francis R (Dick) Scobee, killed in the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster of January, 1986.

A visitor strolling through Arlington Cemetery.

A visitor strolling through Arlington Cemetery.

The grave of President John F Kennedy is one of the most visited sites in Arlington Cemetery. At his funeral on 25 November, 1963, Jacqueline and Robert Kennedy lit an eternal flame that remains alight today. Jacqueline and two of Kennedy's children are also buried alongside the president.

The grave of President John F Kennedy is one of the most visited sites in Arlington Cemetery. At his funeral on 25 November, 1963, Jacqueline and Robert Kennedy lit an eternal flame that remains alight today. Jacqueline and two of Kennedy’s children are also buried alongside the president.

The first military burial at Arlington National Cemetery took place on 13 May, 1864, for Private William Christman. Today, 152 years later, Arlington is the final resting place for more than 400,000.

The first military burial at Arlington National Cemetery took place on 13 May, 1864, for Private William Christman. Today, 152 years later, Arlington is the final resting place for more than 400,000.

Seven US presidents and their families have been laid to rest in Arlington. President John F Kennedy’s grave, which is marked by an ‘eternal flame,’ is one of the most visited sites in the cemetery.

The cemetery is open 365 days a year, admission is free. Today, on Memorial Day 2016, thousands of those visitors will attend remembrance services that will be held in the Memorial Amphitheatre, as they are every year.

We spent about three hours exploring Arlington National Cemetery. It felt a little weird to begin with, so many tourists visiting a cemetery, but there was an obvious deferential tone to everyone’s conduct which made it ok. Of course, aside from tourists, many would have been there paying their respects. I’m glad we visited.

The guard here has just been relieved of his sentry duty at The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and is on his way to have a half hour break, no doubt glad to get out of the summer sun. Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is one of Arlington Cemetery's most well-known memorials.

The guard here has just been relieved of his sentry duty at The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and is on his way to have a half hour break, no doubt glad to get out of the summer sun. Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is one of Arlington Cemetery’s most well-known memorials.

COMMENTS

  • Larry Macemore

    May 29, 2017

    Great article, when we visited Washington we never got around to seeing the cemetery. Looks like you could get lost among all those tombstones.

  • Dave

    May 30, 2016

    Thank you for your post recognizing Memorial Day here in the states.

    • June 1, 2016

      No problem Dave. Can see it’s an important day for Americans and it’s always good to learn and appreciate other people’s culture. Hope you had a good holiday. Cheers 🙂

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