Arlington National Cemetery
Located across the Potomac in Arlington, Virginia, Arlington Cemetery is home to the remains of thousands of military veterans and national figures. Veterans from all the nation's wars are buried here, from the American Revolution through Iraq and Afghanistan. According to Arlington National Cemetery facts sheet, more than 300,000 people are buried here, and approximately 6,400 burials are conducted annually. The Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington Cemetery was dedicated on May 15, 1920, and serves as the nation's official venue for remembrance. About 5,000 visitors attend each of the three major annual memorial services, on Easter, Memorial Day and Veterans Day.
Arlington National Cemetery history provides a rich understanding of broader American history. Central to the estate is Arlington House, commanding a spectacular view of Washington from across the Potomac River. Its structure was begun in 1802, by George Washington Parke Custis, the adopted grandson of George and Martha Washington. Custis's daughter, Mary Anna Randolph, inherited the estate, and she and her husband, Robert E. Lee, lived here between 1831 and 1861. When Lee headed up Virginia's army, Mary fled, and federal troops confiscated the property. A fine melding of the styles of the Greek Revival and the grand plantation houses of the early 1800s, the house has been administered by the National Park Service since 1933. Service staffs in period costume are stationed in the main areas to talk informally with visitors.
While every headstone is important, Arlington Cemetery offers several highlights. The crew of the Challenger Space Shuttle is interred here, as are Pierre Charles L'Enfant, Thurgood Marshall, John Foster Dulles, and former President William Howard Taft, among others. The Kennedy gravesites are here, complete with the Eternal Flame, which burns uninterrupted. More recently, the Scottish people have given the Lockerbie Cairn to the cemetery, to honor those lost in the Pan Am 103 terrorist incident. Also, in 1997 the Women in Military Service for America Memorial was added, paying tribute to over 1.8 million American servicewomen from the American Revolution to the present.
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
The powerfully moving Tomb of the Unknowns looks out over Washington DC from the crest of a hill, reminding visitors that no one who dies in defense of the nation shall be forgotten. According to Arlington National Cemetery history, Congress officially authorized the indistinguishable remains of a World War I veteran to be buried in the plaza of the new Memorial Amphitheater. Since then, unidentified remains of soldiers from both World Wars and the Korean and Vietnam conflicts have also been honored. The remains of the Vietnam Unknown, however, were exhumed May 14, 1998. According to Arlington National Cemetery facts, DNA tests then revealed that the Vietnam Unknown was Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie, who was shot down somewhere over Vietnam in 1972. His family has since buried him in St. Louis and the Vietnam Unknown crypt will remain vacant.
Arlington Cemetery has its own Metro stop, but also has plenty of paid parking. Upon arrival, head to the Visitor Center, where you can view exhibits, pick up a detailed map, and purchase a Tourmobile ticket, which allows you to stop at all major sites in the cemetery and then re-board whenever you like. Service is continuous and the narrated commentary is informative. Visitors can also tour on foot with a self-guiding brochure, and appreciate the reflective silence of this national outdoor shrine.