Hallowed Ground: Arlington National Cemetery
Photo by Joe Newman
I’ve lived in Washington, D.C. for more than four years but I hadn’t been to Arlington National Cemetery since my 8th grade field trip. It’s not as if the cemetery is out of the way and hard to get to.
It’s easily reached on the Metro’s blue line, or you can approach it on foot across the Arlington Memorial Bridge from the Lincoln Memorial.
The cemetery is on a sprawling 624 acres with rolling hills on the west side, which flatten out towards the river. It was established during the Civil War on property owned by the family of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s wife, Mary Anna (Custis) Lee. Mary Anna was descended from Martha Washington and her first husband, Daniel Parke Custis, a rich plantation owner who died in 1757. George Washington, a well-to-do plantation owner himself, married Martha two years later.
Historical roots aside, Arlington National Cemetery has no shortage of its own history. The list of military heroes buried there is long and impressive. Audie Murphy the World War II hero and film star is there, as is Maj. Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, the Marine fighter ace who they made a TV series about in the 70s. While there are scores of generals and admirals and rows and rows of buck privates, there are only two U.S. presidents buried there, William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy. JFK is interred along with his wife, two of his children and his brothers, Robert and Edward.
For the most part, it’s quiet and peaceful, though there is a constant flow of tourist buses through the grounds. If you’re not paying attention, or you do as I did and forget to grab a map, it’s easy to get lost.
Walking the grounds, I was struck by three images (none of which I captured with my camera). The first was the view of the Pentagon. You hope that as the generals in that building go about the business of war, they look out of their windows and see the cemetery. The second was a row of fresh graves where a new generation of casualties of war are being laid to rest. And lastly was the wide open area on the west side of the cemetery that is still untouched.
Sadly, it’s wishful thinking that we might be lucky enough to never to see those empty fields disturbed.