When it comes to understanding the concept of sacrificing for one’s country, nothing, in my mind, is as impactful as Arlington National Cemetery.
The only national cemetery to hold servicemen from every war in U.S. history, it resides on property that has ties to both George Washington and Robert E. Lee. Originally, it was owned by George Washington Parke Custis, the grandson of Martha Washington and step grandson of George. He spent his life commemorating our first President, which included buying this property, which, at the time, was a plantation. As a memorial, he built what is known at the Arlington House and deemed the area The Arlington Plantation.
Upon his death, he willed the property to his daughter Mary Anna Randolph Custis, who in 1831 had married U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Robert E. Lee.
In 1861, the Lee family left Arlington due to their allegiance to the Confederacy. Later that year, the Union troops utilized the land as a base camp. In 1863, the Freeman’s Village was set up on part of the estate in an attempt to assist slaves who had just gained freedom.
Due to the sheer number of fatalities during the Civil War, the lack of burial space was becoming problematic. So, in 1864, two hundred acres of Arlington Plantation was set aside for a military cemetery. On June 15, the War Department officially designated this burial space a national cemetery, thus creating Arlington National Cemetery. By the end of the war, burials included thousands of service members as well as African-American Freedmen.
Legally, Arlington was still Mary Lee’s, but she was never to call it home again. In 1864, over a tax dispute, the property was sold on the auction block to the federal government. Mary’s son, George Washington Custis Lee sued in 1882 for the return of the property, winning his case in front of the Supreme Court of the United States. Later, he sold the property back to the Federal Government for $150,000.
This is now the final resting place for more than 400,000 active duty service members, veterans and their families.
Visitors are welcome, but are asked to be quite and respectful.
There are only two U.S. Presidents buried in Arlington National Cemetery: William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy.
Following the tragedy of his death, most thought that JFK would be buried in his home state of Massachusetts, however, his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, felt that, “He belonged to the people.”
A site was chosen, the grave area paved by granite quarried from site near Kennedy’s Cape Cod home. As requested by Mrs. Kennedy, an eternal flame marks the grave. It’s a beautiful, yet somber memorial to our 35th President.
Unlike the memorials at the Capitol Mall area, Arlington National Cemetery has set visiting hours. Open year round, folks can pay their respects during the months of April through September from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. When visiting October through March, the hours are 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Ample time should be allotted, as Arlington National Cemetery spans over more than six hundred acres. It will definitely be time well spent!