As we made our way towards the graves you are greeted by the now famous view of all of the white headstones.
I have wanted to visit Arlington Cemetery for many years now, most notably for President John F Kennedy’s grave site and the tomb of the unknowns. It’s strange to say that you are looking forward to visiting a cemetery, especially as it is not classed as a visitor attraction, it is a cemetery where those who serve in the United States Military are honored. There are between 25 and 30 funeral services each day, on the day we visited there were services taking place, one even having a fly past.
It does feel odd to be walking among the grave stones, but it is also very impressive and interesting to read the names, which include both men and women. Among the lines of white headstones there were some impressive larger headstones and tombs.
It was really helpful having a map as we were able to plan our route around the cemetery. Our first stop was going to be JFK’s grave site, which is a straight route up from the visitor centre. Before you get to the grave site there is a semi circle engraved stone wall, which looks out over D.C., with a number of JFK’s famous quotes, I thought this was a nice touch. Having seen so many pictures of it over the years, I knew what to expect, but actually being there felt strange, emotional even. Next to JFK is Jackie, a son Patrick and an unnamed daughter. The eternal flame blew in the light summer breeze and I took a moment to remember. Not far from the JFK gravesite is his elder brother Senator Edward Kennedy. Although his grave is currently undergoing renovations.
We then headed up to Arlington House, which stands on the hill from which you can see the Pentagon. Thoughts turned to that fateful day in 2001 and I was reminded once again of where we were.
Arlington House was open but restoration work was taking place, so we were only able to see a couple of the rooms. Arlington House is a 19th century mansion which when construction began in 1802, it was not intended to be a national cemetery. It was intended to be a living memorial to George Washington, but his ancestors failed to keep up payments of property tax and it was brought by the government and eventually became a military cemetery. Behind the house is a small exhibition room dedicated to Robert E Lee one of George Washington’s ancestors who was the last person to own Arlington House. It is a good exhibit and highlights the history of the house and Lee’s story.
We made our way towards the tomb of the unknowns, which takes you over towards the far side of the cemetery, by the amphitheatre. This was an impressive building, where JFK spoke on a number of occasions, although I think if I was in an audience here I would need a cushion for those stone seats.
As you move around to the back of the amphitheatre you are greeted by the lone soldier who guards the tomb. Slowly walking from one end to the other, moving his gun from one side to another. We were there near the time when the guards change. They only guard the tomb for 1/2 hour at a time before they change over. This changing of the guard takes approximately ten minutes and is very impressive. First a solider appears and addresses the crowd, telling us that he will be overseeing the change. At that point another solider appears, at the right side of the tomb, and waits to be inspected. There is then some very impressive gun movements and checking of uniform until he is passed for duty. The solider who was on duty then walks in front of the Officer and they both walk off leaving the new solider to carry on guarding the tomb. Again, whilst this is impressive, you are reminded about why this is happening. The tomb, which faces D.C. is guarded everyday come rain, snow or shine.
On the opposite side of the amphitheatre is the memorial for the astronauts from the Columbia and Challenger space shuttles. It might seem odd to let so many people visit what essentially is the last resting place for so many. But it is poignant at the same time that we have the opportunity to pay our respects.
By now we had spent many hours at Arlington. But SBA and I wanted to see if we could find the memorial for Pan Am flight 103, making our way back past Arlington House we did indeed find the memorial. Having seen the graves and memorials that we wanted and been moved by the experience of being at Arlington, we made out way back to the visitor centre.
Having been out in the heat for most of the day, it was nice to be in the light air conditioned building, where we had a browse in the gift shop. I couldn’t leave without buying some memorabilia of JFK and Arlington. Around the walls are exhibits and photographs which show the history by highlighting specific events.
I enjoyed my visit to Arlington Cemetery, although I’m still not sure this feels the right thing to say. You certainly cover a lot of ground, but if you want to see everything then do be prepared by wearing comfortable/ sensible shoes and if a hot day take lots of water. We left Arlington and made our way across the Arlington Memorial bridge which stands over the Potomac river.