In March I took my first vacation of the year.
Originally I had intended to spend the whole 10 days with relatives in VA., but upon learning how easy it would be to go to DC, and how much cheaper the plane flight home from there would be, I found a Hostel to hunker down in, and spent the second half of my vacation in the Capitol of this great nation of ours.
After settling in at my Hostel, near Dupont Circle, I headed out on my first order of business.
A visit to Arlington National Cemetary.
Why choose Arlington as my first stop?
Because if it was not for the sacrifices of these brave patriot men, and women, there would be no America as we know it, and no Washington DC, for this grateful American to visit.
As I walk down the avenue to the entrance I avoid looking toward the graves until I'm back out the other side of the Visitor Center with a map in hand.
Arlington gets 4 million visitors a year, and each one has a reason deeply personal, and unique, to them:
The child, or teen who is dragged reluctantly along by parents, and discovers, for the first time, that an ancestor or two are buried here, thus turning a boring side trip into a life changing experience.
Another child, or teen, coming with relatives, to bury, or pay respects to, a mother, father, or sibling lost in service to our nation.
People coming to pay respects to, or bury friends, not just family.
History, and art buffs coming for the chance to walk through history, and explore the headstones, and monuments, for what they say, and for their architecture.
Genealogists, both amatuer, and professional.
The reasons are many.
People of all races and religions, from Union and Confederate brave to the current conflicts in the Middle East, and even 63 foreign nationals, are buried here.
Explorers, astronauts, and famous historical, literary, and medical figures, including 8 Associate Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, are buried here as well.
Nearly 100 burials are conducted each week, Monday through Friday.
As I walked around I saw many active duty members of the military with members of their family, and I saw older vets wearing medals from their service days.
The sight that greets your eyes, as you finally begin to explore the grounds, is breathtaking, sobering, and humbling.
Row upon row of markers, intersected by streets that take the visitor, on foot, or by tourmobile, all over the cemetary.
Here lie buried, side by side, officers, and common servicemen, and servicewomen, of all branches of the military, the famous, and the unknown, most marked by plain white markers, many by older, more elaborate, granite, marble, and stone markers.
This place is huge, and to properly explore it on foot one needs to spend the whole day here, but I only had a few hours.
As I walked around I came across a most unexpected sight in this most sobering of surroundings: A NO BICYCLING sign!
Yes, I laughed my head off. ;-D
There is a bike rack by the main entrance, near the Visitor Center, yet the first warning sign on the grounds themselves, telling the intrepid two-wheeled explorer that pedaling about the place is a serious no-no, is a mile away from the bike rack! ;-D
A guard told me there were more such signs elsewhere on the premises.
I finally head over to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for the 4pm Changing of the Guard Ceremony.
I soon find myself watching the 3pm Guard pace back and forth, smartly, and solemnly.
Dozens of people, young and old, have arrived and taken up positions to watch the proceedings.
Everyone is solemn, and quiet, even as the snap of cameras can be heard, and people operate camcorders.
The ceremony involves an Officer presenting the new guard, and escorting the old one away.
It was a very smartly done, solemn and moving, ceremony.
Here Rests In
An American Soldier
Known But to God
What was just as moving, afterward, were 2 wreath laying ceeremonies involving young students from Houston Academy (4 teen boys), and Christ Covenant School (2 boys, and 2 girls, of elementary school age.), in which the Officer instructed the smartly dressed kids in their parts, and escorted them, and the wreath, to and from its placement, which included the playing of Taps as each wreath was placed.
The kids were very solemn, and at least one of them got a bit emotional by the look on his face.
After the ceremonies were concluded I headed on out of the cemetary, and back into DC proper.
The Official Website of Arlington National Cemetary is a fascinating, fact filled, site, well worth exploring before, or after, your visit, or even if you never get the chance to visit in person (There are many photos.).