Silence and Respect

Monday, April 02, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Arlington, VA 
In the early 1800s,  the adopted grandson of George Washington bought a large property just across the Potomac River from the nation's new capitol city.  He named the estate Arlington (house pictured above) and hired the architect of the U.S. Capitol building to design a grand home for the hilltop.  When his only child, Mary, inherited the home, she lived there with her husband, Robert E. Lee.

In his study in this home, Lee penned his painful letter of resignation to the United States Army when Virginia voted to secede from the Union in 1861.  Away from home with the Confederate forces and fearing for the safety of his wife and children due to their proximity to the federal capitol, Lee convinced Mary to leave Arlington and move further south in Virginia. 
Shortly after the family left, federal troops crossed the Potomac and set up military installations on the estate as a critical element in the defense of Washington.  In the family's absence, the estate was confiscated by the federal government in 1864 for the Lees' failure to appear in person to pay property taxes.  Determined to preclude Lee from returning to his home and spurred by the urgency of dead soldiers flooding into Washington, the general in command of the garrison at Arlington declared the estate to be a military cemetery.
Army caisson procession in Arlington
In the interest of national unity, neither Lee nor his wife attempted to recover their estate after the Civil War ended.  After his father's death in 1870, George Washington Custis Lee sued the federal government for confiscating the manor and property without due process.  Although the Supreme Court ruled in his favor, too many soldiers had been interred there to reverse its fate, and Lee sold the estate to Congress for $150,000.
Like so many visitors to Washington, DC, we made our pilgrimage to this estate today.  Now known as Arlington National Cemetery, the former Lee property shelters the remains of more than 320,000 veterans from every period of American history.  With 25 to 30 funerals each day, the cemetery maintains a solemn atmosphere that even the tens of thousands of tourists today respected.
Military precision even into death
With its pomp and ceremony, the Tomb of the Unknowns is one of the cemetery's most visited sites.  A select group of tomb guards, who undergo rigorous training and requirements, stand sentinel at the tomb at all times, regardless of weather.  To end the 1920s practice of locals picnicking in the area of the tomb, a military guard was posted at the tomb during cemetery hours.  Since 1937, when the watch was expanded to 24 hours, there has been a sentinel on duty at the tomb every minute of every day, even when hurricanes have blown through the area.
Sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknown
Many great generals are interred in Arlington National, as are President Kennedy, whose gravesite attracts many visitors, and President Taft, whose modest monument is mostly ignored, even by the tour operators.  Monuments throughout the cemetery honor specific groups, such as those who died on the battleship USS Maine, aboard the Challenger and Columbia space shuttles, and in the tragedies of 9/11.
Walking along a path on our way out of the cemetery, we were drawn to examine a grave near the walkway.  The humble marker was no different in appearance from hundreds of thousands of others in Arlington.  But the simple tributes which had been laid at the headstone begged investigation, and we discovered the final resting place of an American whose World War II military experience inspired him to work to improve conditions for all citizens back home, a mission which resulted in his tragic death.
A humble resting place for a civil rights leader
Leaving the cemetery, we visited the nearby Iwo Jima monument, formally called the Marine Corps War Memorial.  The massive sculpture is based on the iconic World War II photograph of Marines raising the flag on the Japanese-held island and is dedicated to all Marines who have sacrificed their lives in defense of their country since the revolutionary era. 
Iwo Jima Memorial
Our final destination of the day was the memorial to 26th President Theodore Roosevelt.  As an avid conservationist and outdoorsman, he would have no doubt appreciated the placement of his memorial on an undeveloped island in the Potomac River rather than amidst the bustle of the city.
TR on his island
Accessible only by footbridge, Theodore Roosevelt Island and its memorial were dedicated in 1967. The centerpiece of the memorial, a 17-foot statue, is surrounded by several large monoliths with quotations from the President and a stream fed by two large fountains. 

  • Letterboxes found:  2
  • Miles walked:  5
  • Acres in Arlington National Cemetery:  624
  • Total number of graves (including dependents):  400,000   

Spring has arrived at Arlington.
Clearly the tone required
Memorial Amphitheater, Arlington