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Arlington National Cemetery: History Carved in Stone

Travelogue

Arlington National Cemetery is open every day. The Cemetery’s operating hours begin at 8 a.m. and end at 5 p.m. from October through March and 7 p.m. from April through September. Arlington National Cemetery bills itself as “America’s shrine to those who honorably served our nation.”[i]

This cemetery is the final resting place for 400,000 active duty service members, veterans, and their families.[ii] The cemetery’s monuments tell the story of the United States from the Civil War to today. There are ceremonies at the Memorial Amphitheater on Memorial Day and Veterans Day.[iii] There is the daily changing of the guard ceremony at the Tombs of the Unknown Soldier.


[i] Official Online Brochure, https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Portals/0/Web%20Final%20PDF%20of%20Brochure%20March%202015.pdf, last accessed 6/19/2020.

[ii] Official Online Brochure, https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Portals/0/Web%20Final%20PDF%20of%20Brochure%20March%202015.pdf, last accessed 6/19/2020.

[iii] Official Online Brochure, https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Portals/0/Web%20Final%20PDF%20of%20Brochure%20March%202015.pdf, last accessed 6/19/2020.

Arlington National Cemetery History

George Washington’s step-grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, willed his 1,100-acre property to his daughter, Mary Anna Randolph Custis. Mary Anna married Robert E. Lee. When General Robert E. Lee decided to fight on the side of the Confederacy in the Civil War, the Lee family vacated the premises.[i] As of June 18, 2020, General Robert E. Lee’s house still stands and is closed while undergoing restoration. The house was originally scheduled to reopen in the fall of 2019. The house is scheduled to reopen in the summer of 2020.[ii] The Lee The house is visible from Washington, DC.

The Virginia militia occupied the estate on May 7, 1861. Union troops occupied the estate, and the rest of Arlington, without resistance later in May.[iii] In 1863 Congress passed a tax on all lands in Confederate states. Failure to pay meant the Federal Government could seize the property. Mary Ann Lee couldn’t travel to Arlington because of her health. She sent a surrogate to pay the tax but the tax collector refused because the payment had to be made in person. The Federal Government bought the estate and paid $26,800.[iv]

Federal troops used the property as a camp and headquarters. In 1863 the federal government created Freedman’s Village on the estate. Freedman’s Village provided housing, education, training, and medical care to former slaves. This was a way to assist former slaves in transitioning to freedom. On May 13, 1864 the U.S. buried Private William Christman. This was the first soldier buried on the estate. On June 15, the War Department set aside about 200 acres of the property as a cemetery.[v] The U.S. Army buried Union officers close to Lee’s house. The idea was with Union officers buried nearby Lee wouldn’t want the house back.

During the Civil War the U.S. Army buried thousands of service members and former slaves on the estate.[vi] General Lee made no attempt to get back the property after the Civil War. He didn’t want to do anything to hinder reconciliation between the North and South. George Washington Custis Lee sued to reclaim the property in April 1874. On December 4, 1882 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 the Federal Government illegally confiscated the property. Lee chose $150,000 in compensation in lieu of reclaiming the estate.[vii]

Arlington National Cemetery has over 9,600 trees. Some of these trees are almost 250 years old and were around when America won its independence from Great Britain. Over 140 trees were planted to commemorate military units, battles, and individuals.[viii]

There is the Memorial Amphitheater. This is where official ceremonies are held. It was dedicated on May 15, 1920. The three famous annual services take place on Easter, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day. The Easter sunrise service begins at 6 in the morning. The Memorial and Veterans Day services begin at 11 in the morning.

Behind the Amphitheatre is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Inside the above ground crypt is the Unknown Soldier from World War I. The United States, as did some other countries, dedicated a tomb for an unknown service member. There are three in ground Unknown Soldier crypts. The crypts for the Unknown Soldier of World War II and Korea have the body of an unidentified service member from each of these wars. By the end of the Vietnam Conflict the technology had improved such that it was possible to positively identify the remains of almost anybody. On May 17, 1984 USMC Sergeant Major Allan Jay Kellogg Jr. selected an unknown soldier from the Vietnam War. The unknown soldier was interred in the crypt for the Vietnam War on Memorial Day, 1984. The Vietnam War unknown soldier’s body was exhumed on May 14, 1998. With DNA testing scientists identified the remains of 1st Lieutenant Michael Joseph Blassie, USAF. 1st Lieutenant Blassie died when enemy forces shot down his A-37B Dragonfly on May 11, 1972.[ix] As his family wished 1st Lieutenant Blasse was reinterred at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, St. Louis, Missouri. The Vietnam Unknown crypt is empty. “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen, 1958-1975”, is inscribed on the Vietnam Unknown crypt.[x]

Soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment guard the tomb. There is a changing of the guard ceremony every hour from October 1 – March 31 and every ½ hour from April 1 – September 30.[xi]

Presidents William Howard Taft and John Fitzgerald Kennedy are the two presidents buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The President Kennedy gravesite has an eternal flame. Senator Robert F. Kennedy, President Kennedy’s brother, who was also assassinated, is also buried at Arlington National Cemetery. His grave has a marker and a white cross.

Arlington National Cemetery has a Confederate Memorial. Confederate veteran, Moses Jacob Ezekiel, designed the memorial. He was the first Jewish graduate of Virginia Military Institute (VMI).[xii] VMI students fought in many Civil War battles. Confederate gravestones surround the Confederate Memorial. Confederate gravestones have pitched tops while other gravestones have rounded tops. There are also graves of military people from other countries.

One could get a good image of U.S. History from the Civil War onwards from the Arlington Cemetery Memorials. These are some of the Memorials:

  • USS Maine Memorial – It commemorates the more than 260 sailors who died when the USS Maine exploded and sank in Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898. Although there was no evidence Spain had anything to do with the sinking the battle cry, “Remember the Maine” went out. The United States declared war on Spain on April 25.
  • Spanish-American War memorial – Dedicated to those who died during the Spanish-American War.
  • Spanish-American War Nurses Memorial – Dedicated to the U.S. nurses who served in the Spanish-American War. This was the first time in a U.S. war that nurses served in a dedicated, quasi-military, unit.[xiii]
  • Canadian Cross of Sacrifice – Is a memorial to the Americans who volunteered for the Canadian Expeditionary Force and lost their lives in World War I.[xiv]
  • Argonne Cross – Commemorates the World War I Meuse-Argonne Offensive that began on September 26, 1918 and lasted until the Armistice went into effect at 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918.[xv]
  • Battle of the Bulge Memorial – This commemorates the battle in the Ardennes Forest the U.S. dubbed the “Battle of the Bulge”. It was the last major German offensive. The battle took place in the winter of 1944/45. U.S. and UK forced turned the German offensive into a major German debacle.
  • USS Thresher National Commemorative Monument – The nuclear-powered submarine USS THRESHER (SSN-593) sank with 129 personnel on board, including 17 civilian technicians, on April 10, 1963.[xvi]
  • Iran Rescue Mission Memorial – On April 24 1980 the U.S. attempted to rescue the 53 Americans held hostage by Iran. Mishaps caused President Jimmy Carter to abort the mission. When the commandos were departing from a site called “Desert One” a USMC helicopter collided with a parked USAF C-130. The mishap killed 5 airmen and 3 marines.[xvii]
  • Beirut Barracks Memorial – On October 23, 1983 suicide truck bombers struck the USMC, and French military barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. The attacks killed 241 American service members, 58 French service members, and 6 civilians. For the USMC it was the deadliest day since the battle of Iwo Jima in 1945.[xviii]
  • Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial – On January 28, 1986 the space shuttle CHALLENGER exploded 73 seconds after lift-off. The 7 astronauts on board died in the crash.[xix]
  • Pan Am Flight 103 Memorial – On December 21, 1988 a terrorist bomb on Pan American flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland. The bomb killed all 259 people on board the Boeing 747 and 11 people on the ground.[xx] On January 31, 2001 Abdel Baset al-Megrahi was convicted on 270 counts of murder and sentenced to life. MP Kenny MacAskill released Abdel Baset al-Megrahi on August 20, 2009. Al-Meghrahi returned to a hero’s welcome in his native Lybia.
  • Pentagon Group Burial Marker – On September 11, 2001 terrorists hijacked 4 jetliners. The terrorists crashed two of the jetliners into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York. One jetliner crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. One jetliner, American Airlines Flight 77, crashed into the Pentagon. Total losses from the Flight 77 crash were 184.[xxi]
  • Space Shuttle Columbia Memorial – On February 1, 2003 the space shuttle COLUMBIA burned up on re-entry killing all 7 astronauts on board.[xxii]


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[i] Official Online Brochure, https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Portals/0/Web%20Final%20PDF%20of%20Brochure%20March%202015.pdf, last accessed 6/19/2020.

[ii] National Park Service, The Robert E. Lee Memorial, https://www.nps.gov/arho/index.htm, last accessed 6/19/2020.

[iii] Real Clear History, How Robert E. Lee’s Home Became Arlington National Cemetery, by Richard Brownell, May 9, 2018, https://www.realclearhistory.com/historiat/2018/05/09/how_robert_e_lees_home_became_arlington_national_cemetery_305.html#, last accessed, 6/19/2020.

[iv] Real Clear History, How Robert E. Lee’s Home Became Arlington National Cemetery, by Richard Brownell, May 9, 2018, https://www.realclearhistory.com/historiat/2018/05/09/how_robert_e_lees_home_became_arlington_national_cemetery_305.html#, last accessed, 6/19/2020.

[v] Official Online Brochure, https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Portals/0/Web%20Final%20PDF%20of%20Brochure%20March%202015.pdf, last accessed 6/19/2020.

[vi] Official Online Brochure, https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Portals/0/Web%20Final%20PDF%20of%20Brochure%20March%202015.pdf, last accessed 6/19/2020.

[vii] Real Clear History, How Robert E. Lee’s Home Became Arlington National Cemetery, by Richard Brownell, May 9, 2018, https://www.realclearhistory.com/historiat/2018/05/09/how_robert_e_lees_home_became_arlington_national_cemetery_305.html#, last accessed, 6/19/2020.

[viii] Memorial Arboretum and Horticulture, https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Explore-the-Cemetery/Memorial-Arboretum-and-Horticulture/Welcome , last accessed 6/19/2020.

[ix] Air Force, Together We Served, https://airforce.togetherweserved.com/usaf/servlet/tws.webapp.WebApp?cmd=ShadowBoxProfile&type=Person&ID=79626, last accessed 6/20/2020.

[x] Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Explore/Tomb-of-the-Unknown-Soldier, last accessed 6/20/2020.

[xi] Changing of the Guard, https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Explore/Changing-of-the-Guard, last accessed 6/20/2020.

[xii] Confederate Memorial, https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Explore/Monuments-and-Memorials/Confederate-Memorial, last accessed 6/20/2020.

[xiii] Spanish-American War Nurses Memorial, https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Explore/Monuments-and-Memorials/Spanish-American-War-Nurses, last accessed 6/20/2020.

[xiv] Canadian Cross of Sacrifice, https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Explore/Monuments-and-Memorials/Canadian-Cross, last accessed 6/20/2020.

[xv] Argonne Cross, https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Explore/Monuments-and-Memorials/Argonne-Cross, last accessed 6/20/2020.

[xvi] USS TRESHER, https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Explore/Monuments-and-Memorials/USS-Thresher, last accessed 6/20/2020.

[xvii] Iran Rescue Mission, https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Explore/Monuments-and-Memorials/Iran-Rescue-Mission, last accessed 6/20/2020.

[xviii] Beirut Barracks Memorial, https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Explore/Monuments-and-Memorials/Beirut-Barracks, last accessed 6/21/2020.

[xix] Space Shuttle Challenger, https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Explore/Monuments-and-Memorials/Space-Shuttle-Challenger, last accessed 6/21/2020.

[xx] Pan Am Flight 103 Memorial, https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Explore/Monuments-and-Memorials/Pan-Am-Flight-103, last accessed 6/21/2020.

[xxi] Pentagon Group Burial Marker, https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Explore/Monuments-and-Memorials/Pentagon-9-11, last accessed 6/21/2020.

[xxii] Space Shuttle Columbia Memorial, https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Explore/Monuments-and-Memorials/Space-Shuttle-Columbia, last accessed 6/21/2020.

Nearby

Arlington National Cemetery is next to the Netherlands Carillon. The Netherlands gave us the carillon in 1954 to thank the United States for its aid during and after World War II. The bells play on special occasions, such as celebrating a presidential inauguration. The Marine Corps War Memorial is in the same area. The memorial depicts U.S. Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima. The depiction is from the photograph taken by Joseph John Rosenthal. The dates and places of all the military conflicts in which the U.S. Marines participated are inscribed on the memorial’s base. President Dwight D. Eisenhower dedicated the Memorial on November 10, 1954.[i] The names and dates of conflicts since then have been added to the monument’s base.

The Pentagon and The National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial are also near the cemetery. People use to be able to go on Pentagon tours without reservations. Today reservations are required and must be booked 14-90 days in advance.[ii] The Pentagon Memorial is open to the public. It is on the Pentagon reservation. Photography is permitted inside the Memorial but forbidden on the rest of the Pentagon reservation. The Air Force Memorial, which consists of three steel spires, is also nearby. The height of the spires range in height from 201 feet-270 feet (61m – 82m).


[i] National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/gwmp/learn/historyculture/usmcwarmemorial.htm, last accessed 6/23/2020.

[ii] Pentagon.osd.mil, https://pentagontours.osd.mil/Tours/tour-guidelines.html, last accessed 6/24/2020. Note: As with many tourist spots in the United States, Pentagon tours were stopped because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Robert Sacchi

Comments

Robert Sacchi (author) on November 11, 2020:

Sorry I didn't get back to you sooner. Thank you for reading and commenting. This isn't a good year for tourism.

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on September 05, 2020:

It's been a day or two since I visited.

I would love to go back again one day.

Thank you for all the updated information including the opening date for General Lee's house.

The changing of the guards is always interesting to see in person.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on July 04, 2020:

Not at all, Robert.

Robert Sacchi (author) on July 04, 2020:

Thank you for reading and commenting.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on July 04, 2020:

Thanks, Robert. You're wecomed.

Robert Sacchi (author) on July 04, 2020:

Thank you. I'm actually hope someone who has actually visited the UK National Memorial Arboretum would write an article. One big advantage of HubPages is it gives the perspective from people who are "on the ground".

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on July 04, 2020:

Robert, I hope you research and write on. Ahboretum history. Goodluck and all the best.

Robert Sacchi (author) on July 03, 2020:

Thank you both for reading and commenting. I'm glad you found it interesting. The UK National Memorial Arboretum would seem a good subject for a HubPages article.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on July 03, 2020:

Thank you for this detailed history lesson--from how the cemetery was obtained, to how it is used and who's buried there. I appreciate its significance much more.

Liz Westwood from UK on June 28, 2020:

This is a very interesting and informative article. I had a vague idea that the two Kennedy brothers were buried here. There's a lot of history at Arlington. In the UK we have a National Memorial Arboretum. It consists of separate areas and memorials to different sections of the armed services from various conflicts rather than a place for burials.

Robert Sacchi (author) on June 26, 2020:

Thank you all for reading and commenting. Arlington National Cemetery is a place steeped in history and emotions.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on June 26, 2020:

The compilation is informing.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 26, 2020:

Having never visited the Arlington National Cemetery, I did not realize that there were so many other memorials located there, or how the land was first acquired. Thanks for assembling all of this information.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on June 25, 2020:

This was a great article and I am so happy that soldiers who passed away in the service of the nation are given their due. This is a unique place with a lot of history and I had occasion to visit it a few years back.

Robert Sacchi (author) on June 25, 2020:

Thank you. Stay safe.

FlourishAnyway from USA on June 25, 2020:

Bob - Absolutely, I agree.

Robert Sacchi (author) on June 25, 2020:

Thank you all for reading and commenting:

Miebakagh Fiberesima - Yes, from such places people can learn many things they didn't learn in History classes.

Pamela Oglesby - All the stories in Arlington Cemetery can fill an encyclopedia. The monuments are just a representation of these stories. My words concerning Al-Meghrahi's release are unprintable.

FlourishAnyway - There is always a problem with judging history from a modern point of view. There is no telling how our actions could be judged 150 years from now.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on June 25, 2020:

The history or story, the acts of the government and its people makes right sense.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on June 25, 2020:

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the history of Arlington National Cemetery. I have seen the cemetery but I have never read the history before or even walked around that area. You gave a wealth of information in the article, Robert. I didn't like the fact the Al-Meghrahi was released so early as the Pan Am explosion killed so many people.

Reading about all of the times soldiers have died is sad and I am so glad they can be buried in a cemetery that honors them for their sacrifice.

FlourishAnyway from USA on June 25, 2020:

What an excellent article. While the land was ill gotten by the government in my opinion I am glad that this revered burial ground exists. I have visited several times. I hope there’s not a bunch of hubbub over Robert E. Lee’s home when it finally opens to the public. We need to understand all of history in context—the good, bad, and ugly, the architecture, the culture, the literature, etc..

Robert Sacchi (author) on June 25, 2020:

Yes, we need such places lest we forget.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on June 25, 2020:

Robert, thanks for the update. But now I just weep briefly again for all that lost they lives.

Robert Sacchi (author) on June 24, 2020:

Thank you that's very kind. MP Kenny released Ab Abdelbaset on humanitarian grounds. MP Kenny gave the impression he had a short time to live. Abdelbaset died on May 20, 2012.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on June 24, 2020:

Robert, my pleasure reading Arington Cemetery Memorials. It depicts America's best for its service men. God bless America poeples for honoring they service men. But why did MP Kenny release Ab del Basel? Is it on prisoner exchange basis? Basel murdered over 200 innocent persons. What is the justification for Basel being set free? Thanks.

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