This morning we took an Old Town Trolley Bus tour around the city to orientate ourselves with the many neighbourhoods and sights. We went on all three lines to start with – the orange line being the National Mall and Downtown Loop, the green loop being the National Cathedral, Uptown & Georgetown Loop and the red line being the Arlington Cemetery Loop. We got off at the Arlington National Cemetery and although a humbling place to walk around is very interesting.
Arlington National Cemetery is a United States military cemetery in Arlington County, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., beneath whose 624 acres (253 ha) have been laid casualties, and deceased veterans, of the nation’s conflicts beginning with the American Civil War, as well as reinterred dead from earlier wars.
The cemetery was established during the Civil War on the grounds of Arlington House, which had been the estate of the family of Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s wife Mary Anna (Custis) Lee (a great-granddaughter of Martha Washington). The cemetery, along with Arlington House, Memorial Drive, the Hemicycle, and the Arlington Memorial Bridge, form the Arlington National Cemetery Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in April 2014.
There are certain criteria that have to be met in order to be buried or cremated and interred in the columbaria but in general terms you have to have served in the Unite States military or have served the country politically.
The first military burial at Arlington was in May 1864. The flags in Arlington National Cemetery are flown at half-staff from a half hour before the first funeral until a half hour after the last funeral each day. Funerals are normally conducted five days a week, excluding weekends.
Funerals, including interments and inurnments, average between 27-30 per day. The cemetery conducts approximately 6,900 burials each year.
With more than 400,000 interments, Arlington National Cemetery has the second largest number of burials of any national cemetery in the United States. The largest of the 130 national cemeteries is the Calverton National Cemetery, on Long Island, near Riverhead, New York, which conducts more than 7,000 burials each year.
Five state funerals have been held at Arlington: those of Presidents William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy, his two brothers, Senator Robert F. Kennedy and Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy, and General of the Armies John J. Pershing. Whether or not they were wartime service members, U.S. presidents are eligible to be buried at Arlington, since they oversaw the armed forces as commanders-in-chief.
Among the most frequently visited sites in the cemetery is the grave of President John F. Kennedy, who is buried with his wife, Jacqueline, and two of their children. His remains were interred there on March 14, 1967, a reinterment from his original Arlington burial site, some 20 feet (6.1 m) away, where he was buried in November 1963. The grave is marked with an “eternal flame”. The remains of his brothers, Senator Robert F. Kennedy and Senator Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy, are buried nearby. The latter two graves are marked with simple crosses and footstones. On December 1, 1971, Robert Kennedy’s body was re-interred 100 feet (30 m) from its original June 1968 burial site.
We went to see the Tomb of the Unknowns and saw the changing of the guard. The Tomb of the Unknowns has been perpetually guarded since July 2, 1937, by the U.S. Army. The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (“The Old Guard”) began guarding the Tomb on April 6, 1948. There is a meticulous routine which the guard follows when watching over the graves. The Tomb Guard:
Marches 21 steps down the black mat behind the Tomb.
Turns, faces east for 21 seconds.
Turns and faces north for 21 seconds.
Takes 21 steps down the mat.
Repeats the routine until the soldier is relieved of duty at the Changing of the Guard.
After each turn, the Guard executes a sharp “shoulder-arms” movement to place the weapon on the shoulder closest to the visitors to signify that the Guard stands between the Tomb and any possible threat.
Twenty-one was chosen because it symbolizes the highest military honor that can be bestowed—the 21-gun salute.
Each turn the guard makes precise movements and followed by a loud click of the heels as he snaps them together. The guard is changed every half hour during daylight in the summer, and every hour during daylight in the winter and every two hours at night (when the cemetery is closed to the public), regardless of weather conditions.