Arlington National Cemetery sits just across the river from our nation’s capital in Arlington, Virginia. These rolling hills are some of the most hallowed ground in the United States, serving as the final resting place for more than 400,000 military veterans and their immediate family with soldier remains dating as far back as the Revolutionary War!
And like most places in and around Washington, D.C., the cemetery has a fascinating history. The land once belonged to George Washington Parke Custis – step-grandson of our nation’s first president. His daughter Mary Anna inherited the land in 1857. She was married to then U.S. Army Lieutenant Robert E. Lee. At the outset of the Civil War, the Lee family vacated the property and federal troops used the land as a camp until 1864 when the land was needed to meet the demand for ever-increasing military burials from the war front.
The oldest grave at the cemetery belongs to Civil War soldier Private William Christman of Pennsylvania. There are 10 Revolutionary War veterans buried at Arlington, but they were all reinterred from a different location.
Today, the cemetery has expanded to 624 acres and conducts nearly 30 funerals every weekday.
The services are an incredibly powerful and moving experience, especially if you’re witnessing a funeral for a soldier who made the ultimate sacrifice in combat overseas.
There are only two U.S. presidents buried in Arlington. William Howard Taft, our nation’s 27th president, was buried there in 1930.
Most notably, Arlington is the final resting place for John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in November 1963. Kennedy, our nation’s 35th president, commanded a PT boat in the Pacific Theater during World War II. His grave is very unique as it is marked by an iconic eternal flame.
But the most sacred site in Arlington National Cemetery is a grave with no name – the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Approved by Congress in 1921, the tomb contains the remains of an unknown American warrior who died fighting in France during World War I. Additional unknown soldiers have been added from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.
What makes this site special is the meticulous care and reverence taken by the Tomb Guard, elite sentinels of the Army’ s 3rd Infantry Regiment that keep watch over the unknown tombs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in any weather.
If you’re ever visiting the cemetery be sure to stop by the Tomb of the Unknown to watch a “changing of the guard” ceremony, which takes place every 30 minutes in the spring and summer and every hour in the fall and winter.
The tomb has been perpetually watched in this impressive fashion since 1937! And each year on Veterans Day, the sitting U.S. president visits the site and lays a wreath at the tomb.
The Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment carries out another honorable caretaking task called “Flags In” where soldiers from the unit place flags in front of the gravesites of more than 200,000 fallen heroes in advance of Memorial Day.
“I get an immense feeling of honor and pride when I come and do Flags In every year. It’s becoming more and more personal every year that I do it – seeing the different graves that I come across and their stories especially when it comes to the Medal of Honor graves – you have to render a salute when you come to them – when you place a flag at their grave. It’s – there’s a lot of pride in it. There’s a lot of pride in Flags In.
The next time you’re in D.C., plan a visit to Arlington National Cemetery where you can feel the power and the presence of those brave countrymen who put it all on the line to defend our freedom.