Monday, June 10, 2013

Most Hollowed Ground

"On the far shore the sloping hills of Arlington National Cemetery, 
with its row upon row of simple white markers bearing crosses of Stars of David.
 They add up to only a fraction of the price that has been paid for our freedom."  - Ronald Reagan

And.... I'm back! After yet another week of travels, I am happy to say I am home safe and happy. This trip to Washington, DC was a combination of both work and pleasure - I took advantage of the opportunity, and added vacation days so I could meet up with friends. Plus, having never been there before, I really wanted to make sure to visit a couple of landmarks while I was in town. So often I travel for work and never see past my hotel room - it was time to try to enjoy it!

After an arduous redeye flight from the west coast, I arrived in Virginia early Sunday morning. One of my best friends lives nearby, and happily offered up her sweet husband to pick me up (she's 9 months pregnant - she deserved to sleep in!). I was overcome with the beauty of her small town in Virginia, and she was eager to show me around. The next few blogs will cover my various adventures in DC (in no particular order) - this was my first visit to the nation's capitol, and I'm so lucky to have great friends to show me around and schedule amazing tours for me to see!

Entering Arlington Cemetery

My first stop was suggested by my friend - it was a trip to the nation's most hollowed ground: Arlington National Cemetery. Located on over 600 acres of land formerly owned by Robert E. Lee's wife's family, the Cemetery has interred over 400,000 men and women on its lands. With the rare exception, each gravesite is marked with a simple white headstone, typically emblazoned with a symbol of the interred's faith.

Thousands of perfect rows of grave markers - quite a sight to see!

Although DC was pretty hot and humid that day, my very pregnant friend braved the hills of Arlington to show me two of its most famous burial locations. Our first stop was atop the hill to see John F. Kennedy's grave. Flanked by the graves of his loved ones (his wife and two of his children), the JFK gravesite is a fitting tribute to such a beloved President. The eternal flame atop of he and Jacqueline's graves burns as steadily as it has since the late 1960s. 

Opposite JFK's grave is a semi-circle marble wall marked with famous JFK quotes. As both a bibliophile and a lover of JFK, I was excited to see the memorial. I had only ever heard of the eternal flame and had no idea how big or marvelous the overall gravesite would be. What a touching tribute! The below is my favorite quote of all of them. 

Ask not what your country can do for you...

After paying our respects to JFK, his wife, his children, and his brothers (Robert and Ted), my friend and I made the descent to another very moving memorial - the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. What was unknown to me before my visit was that the sarcophagus contains none of the entombed. There are currently 3 soldiers buried at the site - an unknown soldier selected at random from World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. The honored soldier from World War I is located directly below the sarcophagus - the soldiers for World War II and the Korean War are under the slabs to the right and the left respectively. I am so grateful that my grandfather made it home safely (albeit as a Purple Heart) from the Korean War). There was an unknown buried under the center slab for the Vietnam War, but he was later identified via DNA testing. That grave remains empty to this day and is more symbolic in nature.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers

Guarding the Tomb is a special guard (or group of guards) - an honor that is considered to be of the highest order of the US Army. My friend remarked that these guards are highly dedicated, constantly keeping watch over the tomb in even the most horrible weather and circumstances. 

We were lucky enough to time our visit to the tomb just in time to witness the Changing of the Guard. This symbolic act is performed every 30 minutes during the summer (every hour during winter), and is one of the most (if not the most) popular events in the cemetery. The guards perform this act with supreme military precision - not even the cries of a tantrum-throwing toddler was able to throw them off what they were doing. 

After watching the changing of the guard, my friend and I slowly made our way back to our car parked at the visitor's center. I know people don't often consider visiting cemeteries when they are away on vacation, but I have found that some cemeteries are worth the time. The Arlington National Cemetery is a must for any visitor to the nation's capitol. The men and women buried here sacrificed so much for our freedom - it is only fitting that we pay our respects to them. We must never forget that the freedoms we enjoy have come at a cost, and only the people buried here have ever had to bear that burden for us all. God bless them!

Until next time...

--- Becks

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