My weekly venture to see a part of Washington, DC took me to Arlington National Cemetery today. The graveyard, which is found just across the river in Virginia, is the best known of over 100 national cemeteries in the United States where over 320,000 servicemen and women are buried. In fact, the land once belonged to the step-son of George Washington and became the property of Robert E. Lee before it was taken over by the Federal government during the Civil War. Over time the land became a burial ground, and slowly developed into the somber resting place of many who have served this country through war and peace.
To accompany me on this excursion, I met up with an old high school friend who recently moved to the city. Though we hadn’t seen each other since graduating in 2004, and had rarely spoken in between the years, it was hardly the place for a boisterous reunion. In fact, the excitement of getting out and seeing a well known attraction in the city wore off as I rode the Metro to the Arlington stop, realizing that I was about to go to a place for respect and homage.
Together we walked up the hilly cemetery and followed the crowds along the pathways to find President Kennedy’s grave and eternal flame. He lies next to his wife, and not far away lie his brothers Robert and Edward. In order to visit a specific grave you must check in first and get permission, so we didn’t have the opportunity to walk through and take a look at some of the headstones. Next we moved on to the Tomb of the Unknowns, where we witnessed the 1 pm changing of the guard. A member of the Third Infantry maintains vigil round the clock and every hour switches out the guard. The guard on patrol takes 21 paces, pauses for 21 seconds, and then returns to the original position.
After the changing of the guards we decided to head back to the city, where I went back to my apartment to continue reading and studying. I finished reading “Obama’s Wars” by Bob Woodward, focusing on the President’s decision to lead a surge of troops in Afghanistan, and how difficult the decision was. After visiting the cemetery and knowing that many soldiers who were killed during that surge could be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, it gave a very different feel to the story, and will stay with me as I analyze war time decisions.