This is a harder post to write than all the others because our trip to the Arlington Cemetery was more than a “here’s JFK’s grave” and “here’s the tomb of the unknown soldier” kind of ordeal.
I wanted to see the Arlington Cemetery because it is something that you hear so much about in the news and in history books. The cemetery is the place where Americans bury their war dead; and, it’s also the place where many pivotal characters in American history were buried.
Our trip started out simple enough: take the train to the Arlington Cemetery stop, get out and walk to the memorial gate, follow the signs to JFK’s grave and continue following the signs.
I remember at some point along the way saying to Katherine: “Oh look. It’s a horse and buggy.” Then a long silence because I immediately realized that I was looking at a caisson carrying one of the American soldiers brought back from Iraq. This was further confirmed as we walked past Mary Harlan Lincoln’s grave and heard the military rifle salute.
(Note: After a bit of research later I found out that we briefly witnessed the burial of Michael A. Jordan who was killed in Bahrain and not Iraq.)
After this we quickly went to see JFK’s grave and then went no further. I didn’t feel like I wanted to stick around much longer because now instead of looking at history I felt as though we were intruding upon the grief of a family and other soldiers who were there for the funeral. That and the constant sea of little white stones and their lack of individuality was overwhelming; like they were symbols of so many lost lives and lost history.
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It is interesting that Americans have a national cemetery for their war dead, but although it is an honor to be buried there, I think it is a family choice as to where they are buried. If I have my facts right, I think many more are buried in their home towns across America. Any comments?
Members of the U.S. military have a choice as to whether they wish to be buried in a national or private cemetery. From the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs web site (http://www.cem.va.gov/listcem.htm):
The Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) National Cemetery Administration maintains 122 national cemeteries in 39 states (and Puerto Rico) as well as 33 soldier’s lots and monument sites.
My grandmother, for example, because of her service during WWII chose to be buried in a military cemetery, http://www.cem.va.gov/nchp/ftmcpherson.htm
Arlington is the most well known military cemetery. However, because of space limitations, service members must meet certain criteria to be buried there:
Thanks Jeff. That’s great information.
We have a small military cemetery here that I pass from time to time, and I have the same sensation you did at Arlington. It seems like the rows of white markers go on forever, so stark and lifeless and faceless. My heart just breaks.