Visiting Arlington National Cemetery

Changing of the Guard at Arlington National Cemetery's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
A brother in arms keeps guard over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.

For many people visiting Arlington National Cemetery it’s for the sole purpose of witnessing the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I love this tradition as it expresses gratitude to all of those men and women who have risked their lives to protect the freedoms we often take for granted. Day and night, rain or shine, during the best and worst of times, the grave sites of these unknown fallen soldiers are protected by a fellow brother in arms. This is an amazing thing to see first hand, but if this is all you see when visiting Arlington National Cemetery you do yourself a great injustice.

Memorials to Free People

Space Shuttle Columbian Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.
The Space Shuttle Columbia Memorial is in memory of the brave astronauts that we lost in our exploration of space.

Visiting Arlington National Cemetery is an amazing walk through our nation’s history. There are many things to be seen in this odd tourist destination. We honor our nation’s heroes and their stories in this place through memorials. There are stories and people here that are well known to the populace while others are unknown to anyone.

The Battle of the Bulge Memorial.
The Memorial for the soldiers of the Battle of the Bulge – “The Greatest Land Battle in the History of the United States Army.”

Stories like John F. Kennedy’s are tragic. There are energetic stories of our nation’s heroes like those of the Rough Riders. Adventure and exploration stories are found here as well like that of Perry & Henson who were the first two men to set foot on the North Pole. The story of the men and women of the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia are inspiring and simultaneously heart breaking. The memorials for the USS Maine, and the Victim’s of the Terrorist Attack on the Pentagon inspire unified indignation towards the evil’s of this world. Of course stories of bravery permeate almost every monument and headstone including those of the Tuskegee Airmen and those who fought at the Battle of the Bulge.

Click the icons to download the Arlington National Cemetery app. The app allows visitors to easily locate memorials and headstones.

History of Arlington National Cemetery

Washington, D.C.
The view of Washington, D.C. from the Arlington house.

The history that envelopes Arlington National Cemetery is truly amazing. However, the history of the property itself sets the tone when visiting Arlington. The property was owned by the son of Martha Washington and stepson of George Washington. He left the property overlooking the capital of the free world to his son. He in turn willed it to his daughter and son-in-law. The son-in-law was a Captan in the U.S. army and served during the Mexican-American War, but General Robert E. Lee is of course more well known as the Commander of the Confederate forces. When Lee left the Union to side with his home country of Virginia and lead the Confederate Armies he and his family abandoned their much beloved Arlington home.

The U.S. Government Acquires Arlington

Visiting Arlington National Cemetery in Autumn.
Arlington National Cemetery covered in the orange and yellow hues of autumn.

After a perceived tax violation, the U.S. government seized the Arlington property and used it as a strategic fort. Shortly after it became a burial ground for Union soldiers who lost their lives during battles of the Civil War. The soldiers were initially buried very close to the family home as a form of punishment. It made the home unlivable and the Lee family would not be able to return after the war. The ownership of the Arlington property was later contested by Lee’s son and the U.S. government eventually officially purchased the property from him. Then turned it into the National Cemetery we have today.

Arlington as a Symbol of Unity

This lady standing atop the confederate memorial placed in Arlington by the Daughters of the Confederacy represents the Southern Confederacy. Click here for full details about the history and meaning of the monument.

Astonishingly in 1925 the historical home at Arlington was officially dedicated as a memorial to Robert E. Lee. There is another Confederate Soldiers Memorial located on the grounds where many Confederate officers found their final resting place. It was built in 1914. Many find these monuments to be appalling as they only see good and evil when it comes to the Civil War and slavery. I find these memorials to be inspiring as a true testament to the resilience of a nation of free people to overcome differences and issues of morality. These monuments are inline with the spirit of Lincoln’s goal of reconciliation and healing for a unified nation.

For Love of Country

Slavery is an ugly blot on our nation’s history. Many who fought on the side of the Confederacy did so for love of country not for the sake of slavery. The U.S. before the Civil War was more like the European Union of today. Rather than a unified country the U.S. was seen as an alliance of states. Many patriots saw it as their duty to fight for the sovereign rights of their country/state even if they disagreed with the principal of slavery.

The Sin of Slavery

The U.S. isn’t alone in the sin of slavery as that is a blot on most if not all civilizations. It continues in many pockets of the world today including the U.S. Sexual slavery is an ugly truth of our modern world that needs to be eradicated in this generation.

Lincoln’s Dream of Unity

The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Lincoln saved the Union, but he died with his dream of reconciliation unfinished.

Our nation as a whole fought and paid for the sin of African American slavery with the blood of 620,000 of our citizens. I feel blessed that we had men and women brave enough to fight that battle. The resiliency and healing of our nation was found in welcoming back those whom we had fought against. Coming together and moving forward under our new union with slavery abolished. Had the love that Lincoln expressed for unification and healing been embraced perhaps we could have avoided 100 years of segregation and our present day division.

Let Us Not Forget

I am an ardent believer that those who do not remember their past are destined to repeat it. I believe that these confederate memorials along with many others found when visiting Arlington National Cemetery are a way of us remembering both the good and the bad of our nation’s history. We should strive to accurately remember our past especially the wars that we have fought. These monuments are safeguards against the need to suffer the consequences of forgetting.

Cost of Division

When Visiting Arlington seek out the Civil War Unknown Monument.
The inscription reads, “Beneath this stone repose the bones of two thousand one hundred and eleven unknown soldiers gathered after the war from the fields of Bull Run, and the route to the Rappahannock. Their remains could not be identified, but their names and deaths are recorded in the archives of their country; and its grateful citizens honor them as of their noble army of martyrs. May they rest in Peace! September, A.D. 1866.”

There is another sobering reminder at Arlington of the cost for forgetting. The Changing of the Guard is for the unknown soldiers of WWI, WWII and the Korean War. Closer to the Arlington house is a different Unknown Memorial for the Civil War. The tomb found here is for those unknown soldiers who fell at the battle of Bull Run and the route to Rappahannock. It is sobering when standing here to know that 2,111 lives lay buried under this patch of earth. These are the bodies of the fallen that couldn’t be identified from this one battle alone. This, and many times more during, before, and since the Civil War, has been the cost in human sacrifice for the sin of slavery. Let us not forget, but strive to forgive. Lincoln dreamed of a unified country of free people.

Heroes are Found When Visiting Arlington

An American Flag and the tombstones of Arlington National Cemetery.
The Stars and Stripes symbolize our free country, but the heroes who lie at Arlington paid for it.

All of the men and women who found their final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery risked their lives for their nation, their fellow citizens and their fellow brothers in arms. For there is no greater love than this that a man would lay down his life for his friend (John 15:13). These men and women offered up their lives for the sake of their fellow countrymen and that makes all buried on these hallowed grounds heroes.        

Conclusion to Visiting Arlington National Cemetery

The history found when visiting Arlington National Cemetery is amazing. The life stories of the historical figures laid to rest here are inspiring and the tradition of honoring our nation’s unknown soldiers is sobering. The cemetery itself was born out of the pain and suffering of our divided nation. Yet, we find monuments here to fallen heroes from every generation as far back as the War of 1812 and including soldiers from the North and the South. Here, found amongst these tombstones, is the fulfillment of Lincoln’s dream of unification for our free nation. I think of this place as one giant monument to the heroes of our country whose names are engraved on the stones that occupy this massive landscape. Visitors can see in this ocean of tombstones a tangible reflection; a small fraction of the cost of freedom. It is awe inspiring and humbling.

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The Cost of Visiting Arlington National Cemetery

The only downside to our visiting Arlington was not understanding the parking costs. The parking signs say that cars are $2/hr and that buses are $8/hr. We missed that RVs are lumped into the bus category and that they considered our modest vehicle to be an RV… it is a truck camper and fits into a single parking spot. Either way at 4x the cost this was a shockingly expensive error and one to which I find hard to swallow. I don’t even begin to understand the justification for a vehicle like ours being only slightly larger than a normal SUV but charged 4x as much. A Tahoe is larger than our vehicle but I bet you they get charged at the $2 rate. Just keep this in mind if you intend to visit the area in a larger vehicle.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Vicky says:

    Thank you for honoring our fallen soldiers in this manor.

  2. Beautiful writeup! Never looked at this beautiful memorial through this lens. Though always felt proud and grateful but never thought this represents so much more! This is a symbol of mutual understanding, respect, healing that this world and our country will always need.

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