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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Paying respects

Guess I'm getting old. I had the chance this evening to go to a dingy dive in D.C.'s Dupont Circle to bid farewell to one of my A-100 classmates. In years past, I would have leapt at the chance to enjoy the nightlife. Today, however, I was so worn out after spending the day with the family that I just didn't have the energy to get on the Metro and ride into the city tonight. So my apologies, Stader, and have a safe trip to Guangzhou 广州.

The cause of my exhaustion was a most satisfying visit this afternoon to Arlington National Cemetery. Spread out on 624 acres (253 hectares), the cemetery contains the graves of over 300,000 soldiers and their dependents. Leaving the convenient Metro station, we headed toward the grave of John F. Kennedy:

The 35th President lies next to his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who was buried here upon her death in 1994. Behind them is the eternal flame.

Two of their children are also lying here. Next to JFK is their son, Patrick, who died just two days after he was born in August 1963 (and only three months before his father's death). On Jackie's side is the grave of an unnamed daughter, who was born stillborn in 1956.

The view looking towards Washington from the Kennedy family plot is an impressive one. On the walls are extracts from JFK's famous inaugural address.

Nearby is the simple grave of Robert F. Kennedy. The equally plain graves of the other Kennedy brothers, Edward and Joseph, Jr. are also close by.

Next, we walked over to the Tomb of the Unknowns, aka the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier:

Under the big marble sarcophagus lies an unknown soldier from the First World War. Unknowns from World War II and the Korean War lie beneath the white slabs on the ground on the left and right, respectively. The slab in the middle used to contain the remains of a soldier from the Vietnam War, but were removed when he was later identified.

We just missed the hourly Changing of the Guard ceremony, but we did watch the Tomb Guard going through his paces. From the Wikipedia entry:

  1. The soldier walks 21 steps across the Tomb. This alludes to the twenty-one gun salute, which is the highest honor given to any military or foreign dignitary in America. His weapon is always on the shoulder opposite the Tomb (i.e., on the side of the gallery watching the ritual).
  2. On the 21st step, the soldier turns and faces the Tomb for 21 seconds.
  3. The soldier then turns to face the other way across the Tomb and changes his weapon to the outside shoulder.
  4. After 21 seconds, the first step is repeated.
 Here's a brief video of part of the ritual:

Behind the Tomb of the Unknowns is the Memorial Amphitheater, where special remembrance services are held on Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

On the left is a memorial to the astronauts who died in the 1986 Challenger disaster; in the middle a memorial to the failed 1980 Iran rescue mission; and on the right the memorial to another space shuttle disaster, that of Columbia in 2003.

The poem High Flight is inscribed on the back of the Challenger marker

"Remember the Maine!" The mast of the USS Maine, which mysteriously exploded and sank in Havana harbor in 1898, leading to the Spanish-American War and the emergence of the United States as a colonial power.
From the area around the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, we headed back toward the Kennedy graves, to see Arlington House:

The walk en route led past numerous headstones and views of the Pentagon in the background.

The vista in front of Robert E. Lee's home was even more impressive than that fronting the Kennedy family graves. Fittingly framing the scene is the grave of Pierre Charles L'Enfant, the architect and civil engineer who designed Washington, D.C.

Close-up shots of the Lincoln Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial

The parlor room of Arlington House, with some of the original furnishings. The federal government in essence confiscated the estate after Lee resigned from the U.S. Army to take command of Confederate forces following Virginia's secession in 1861. The grounds starting serving as a cemetery for Union dead in 1864, the origins of the present-day Arlington National Cemetery.

Another look at the view. Airplanes were constantly flying overhead on their way to landing at nearby Reagan National Airport.

Amber poses on the steps of the Arlington House

Looking back up at Arlington House as we made our way downhill to the exit. The flag is flying at half-mast in honor of the victims of the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting, another sad example of certain elements in this society's warped interpretations of the Second Amendment.

Amber checks out a model of the funeral cortege for JFK, at the visitor center



  1. Jim, my father is interred in Arlington. someday i'll go there for a visit myself. thanks for the photo essay.

    1. You're welcome. Arlington is a special place, and I'm sure your father will be treated with the utmost respect there.