Sunday, November 15, 2009

Arlington National Cemetery



When President Wilson first declared November 11 Armistice Day in 1919, it was a means of expressing “solemn pride of those who died” in World War I.  The original intent was to commemorate the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the time that World War I had ended in 1918, even if symbolically.  It wouldn’t be until 1938 that congress would make it a federal holiday, and until 1954, when President Eisenhower believed that all American soldiers who make sacrifices for their country should be remembered, that the holiday began to commemorate soldiers from all wars as Veterans Day.  From the beginning, the Arlington National Cemetery has played a major role in how this holiday is observed.
.
Today, over four million visitors annually pay their respects at the Arlington National Cemetery in Washington DC, where over 300,000 Americans are buried.  Though soldiers do outnumber non-soldiers buried there, it is also a resting place for astronauts, explorers, historical figures, US Supreme Court justices, and two American presidents. With six thousand graves dug yearly, and as many as twenty-seven funerals per day, mourners are often able to pay respects to fallen soldiers and their families on a personal level.  However, there are numerous memorials that attract visitors, such as the eternal flame at President John F. Kennedy’s grave and the Tomb of the Unknowns. 





The eternal flame at President Kennedy’s grave was a feature of the memorial requested by First Lady Jackie Kennedy Onassis.  President Kennedy, who served in the US navy for only two years and ten months, draws more visitors to his memorial than any other in the cemetery. As of today, the eternal flame--which is maintained by a natural gas line below the grave site--has only been extinguished once, and by accident, when a group of students sprinkled too heavily holy water over the memorial.




The Tomb of the Unknowns, or more commonly called the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier--either way the site has no official name at all--had its first ceremony on Armistice Day in 1921. Our nation’s first unknown was exhumed from an American World War I cemetery in France, and interred at the Arlington National Cemetery Memorial Amphitheater during a ceremony presided over by President Warren G. Harding. Since then, each sitting American president places a wreath at this grave every year on November 11.




Such as President Obama did yesterday.  Presiding over his first Veterans Day wreath ceremony as president, Obama expressed his sorrow about the occasion: “to our veterans, to the fallen and to their families--there is no tribute, no commemoration, no praise that can truly match the magnitude of your service and your sacrifice.” The president then made an unannounced visit to Section 60, where the soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan are buried. He was seen speaking privately to mourning families, and walking solemnly within the rows of white grave markers.
.
Perhaps no one knows the weight of war like Obama does these days, his campaign largely energized by the promise of bringing troops home, and now as president has to decide on whether or not to send more troops into harms way. But this is not a day to politicize the death of American soldiers, it is a day to commemorate them. It is a day to reflect upon the sacrifices others have made on our behalf because they felt it was their duty to do so, their honor to do so.
.
.

.
Images embedded from
    www.arlingtoncemetery.org
    http://ginavivinetto.files.wordpress.com
    http://commons.wikimedia.org

1 comment: