Sunday, August 13, 2006

Arlington Again

On Thursday the weather was cool and rainy but we did not allow that to stop us from following through on our plan to visit Arlington National Cemetery. This visit to Arlington was the second for Judy and me because our newest visitors--Karen and Allison-- hadn't been there yet. We allotted the entire day for the visit, which I think was the right decision. Mapquest planned a route to Arlington that took us through the heart of DC, following highway 50, aka, New York Avenue. It's not necessarily faster to cut through DC following a route with lots of stoplights such as New York Avenue, as opposed to using the Beltway to circumvent the city, but it was interesting to do it that way once because of the views and the cool sites that you pass, like the Arboretum.

I highly recommend going to Arlington National Cemetery, but be advised, it is not a tourist attraction, but rather, a real cemetery. It is a solemn place. Even though you ride a tour bus up to JFK's gravesite and on the the Changing of the Guard and Arlington House amid crowds of people dressed in shorts; the rows of tombstones leave you in no doubt that you are on hallowed ground. On Thursday, as on everyday, there were funerals being held in Arlington. It is very moving to see a funeral caisson and realize that someone is being committed to the earth that day. The newest section of the cemetery is filled with service people from Iraq--people who have paid the ultimate price. As a military brat, I honor their service.

On this visit, our party stopped at all three of the main sites to which visitors are typically drawn. John Kennedy's gravesite, The Tomb of the Unknown, and Arlington House.

The Kennedy gravesite is simple and elegant. The view down across to the Lincoln Memorial and DC is stunning. As I understand it, JFK had visited Arlington House for a state dinner a few weeks before his assassination. He stood on an overlook above the city and the Lincoln Memorial and made a comment about the beauty of the view and how he could stay there forever. When his brother Robert went to Arlington to pick out a site for his grave, he asked where his brother had been standing when he made his comment about the view--and that is the spot he chose for the grave.

This is the Kennedy gravesite from above--at Arlington House. You can just see the Washington Monument in the misty distance. A little to the left and you would see Memorial Bridge and the Lincoln Monument.

We stayed at the Tomb of the Unknown for the Changing of the Guard through two changes. The dedication of the Tomb Guards is impressive. We talked to the security personnel at the Tomb for some time and they have many tidbits to share about the guards if you take the time to ask them. The precision and hours of training required to meet the standards to be a Tomb Guard are just amazing.

This guard stood his watch through the rain. The Tomb of the Unknown has been guarded in all weather, including HURRICANES, 24/7/365 for more than 50 years straight.

Arlington House was inherited by the wife of Robert E. Lee. Her family were Custis'--related to George Washington through Martha Custis Washington's children. When Lee decided to lead the Army of Northern Virginia--the Lees left Arlington House and basically were never able to return. The government refused to allow Mrs. Lee to pay her property taxes on the house and since she didn't pay; the house was sold at auction. Then, purchased by the government, the land was turned into a cemetery for Union war dead who could not afford their own burials. It was an exquisite revenge, you might say. The first soldiers were buried around Mrs. Lee's flower garden.

Here is Mrs. Lee's garden with the earliest graves around it.

Just past the garden, along the path you can see the Pentagon.

Later, Robert E. Lee's eldest son was able to successfully sue the government for taking the property from his mother and himself. FYI--I'm not sure if Mrs. Lee owned the house or if she held it in trust for her oldest son--feel free to look that up yourself. He (the son) was eventually reimbursed $150,000.00 dollars for the property. Meanwhile, I have to say of the many famous homes I've visited, Arlington House is in the poorest shape. It needs some desperate renovation and care, as it is falling into disrepair. The house isn't air conditioned and I wonder how much longer some of the furnishings can last without that. Most historic houses are air conditioned to keep down the humidity and help preserve them. Arlington House is open to the elements and the air is circulated with electric fans. Aiyyee. They are doing some work--don't get me wrong--I just wonder if they are doing enough.

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