Arlington Cemetery

Arlington CemeteryArlington National Cemetery, located in Arlington, Virginia, is home to the graves of over 275,000 people. It is the second-largest national cemetery in the country, and it conducts an additional 5,400 burials each year. The numbers are somewhat overwhelming when one takes into consideration that almost every person buried in the cemetery was a member of the armed forces or closely related to someone in the armed forces. The cemetery spans a total of about 1,100 acres, and includes numerous memorials, plaques and tombstones in order to honor important people and events in our country’s history.
In 1802, George Washington’s adopted grandson, George Custis, wanted to build a mansion atop a hill in Arlington as a memorial for the country’s first president. He hired George Hadfield, an English architect who helped design the Capitol, to complete this task. After the house was completed and George Custis and his wife had died, Robert E. Lee married Mary Custis, the family’s only surviving child. The couple inherited the home and lived there for 30 years until Lee left to defend the South in the Civil War. Towards the end of the war, the house was occupied by Union troops and its 1,100 acres of land were confiscated and auctioned to General Montgomery C. Meigs. Soon after purchasing the land, he appropriated the grounds for use as a military cemetery. In 1864, Arlington National Cemetery was officially created from the estate.
One can still walk inside the Robert E. Lee house today, but it is just one of many memorials and commemorative monuments that exist in the cemetery. In addition to the mansion, the cemetery has a memorial of JFK. JFK’s burial took place on November 25, 1963, and his grave has since become one of the most visited sites in Arlington. Buried with him are two of his children who died in infancy, as well as his wife. The memorial consists of a plaque surrounded by stone and grass, behind which burns the “eternal flame.” It overlooks Washington, DC., and one can look up from it and see the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. On the JFK Memorial is printed his famous quote, “…Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country….”
Another popular monument in the cemetery is the Tomb of the Unknowns. The tomb contains one unidentified soldier from World War I, another from World War II, another from the Korean War, and one from the Vietnam War, although that soldier has since been identified. Printed on the tomb are the words, “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.” In order to show respect for these soldiers and the sacrifice they made for their country, a specially trained sentinel always guards the tomb, regardless of weather. If observing at the right time, one will witness the changing of the guard.
In my visit to Arlington National Cemetery, I was privileged to observe these monuments as well as the rows after rows of tombstones that have been constructed to remember and honor our country’s veterans. I also witnessed one of our nation’s highest traditions in the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns. I walked through the Robert E. Lee House, taking a glimpse back in time at the lives that they lived, and I read the plaque of the JFK memorial while watching the eternal flame waver with the swift gusts of wind. Having gone to Arlington Cemetery has helped me to better understand the history of our country. After gazing across the vast landscape covered with a countless number of tombstones, I realize what our country has gone through in order to achieve all that it has achieved today. I feel the trip was well worth my time, and I would recommend it to anyone who has not yet been to Arlington Cemetery.
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