Washington DC: Arlington National Cemetery


At the top of my list of places to visit when we were in Washington DC was, believe it or not, the Arlington National Cemetery.

I was not expecting a lot of visitors here in this sprawling military cemetery, not expecting many people would care enough anymore these days about people who died in wars long past. I guess I was wrong.

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The Arlington National Cemetery is located on a hilly area across the Potomac River. It has a direct line of sight from the Arlington House and President John F Kennedy’s grave to the Lincoln Memorial. We got there using the MetroRail.

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Although you could walk through the grounds, it would not be easy. For one, the entire area is huge and also it is very hilly. Many people get around on open air trolleys.

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We got the tickets to the trolleys at the Visitor Center. So they are not free. Time yourself well as I recall the trolley buses stop running quite early, like 5PM or something.

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I wished I had more time at Arlington. This place is so provoking especially when you take the time learning of the many sections of the cemetery.

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I enjoyed taking pictures here. And it was great day too for pictures. The light were just perfect and no harsh midday sun.

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The Eternal Flame. This grave is where President John F Kennedy laid. The Eternal Flame is designed by Jackie Kennedy. This is the most visited grave site in Arlington. This is also the grave that is the most strategically placed overlooking the Potomac to the Lincoln Memorial.

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Just standing a short distance from JFK’s grave is a small cross and a plaque standing all alone at one corner is the grave of the brother of JFK. Robert Kennedy was assassinated just as he was to become the second Kennedy president. It was such a simple grave for a man of his stature.

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Another popular place is known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. This is where they place the remains of unidentified soldiers from four of the wars that the US fought in the 20th century — World War I, World War II, Korean War and the Vietnam War.

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The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is guarded 24 hours a day, 7 days a week since 1937. The honor to guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was given to the US 3rd Infantry Regiment and only the select few gets selected to do this. They do take this job seriously and guard the tomb no matter what happens. There was once when a deadly storm hit Washington DC and most people had evacuated the place, the guards voted to remain.

Only one guard at a time. The guard will always walk 21 steps in one direction, turn to the direction of the tomb, watch for 21 seconds and then march in the other direction. 21 steps, 21 seconds … that 21 number is based on the highest military honor, the 21 gun salute.

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We wanted to also visit the Arlington Memorial Amphitheater but it was closed because of the visit by the Brazilian Minister of Defense. There was a ceremony held but there were too many people to properly see what was going on.

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The Arlington National Cemetery is old having had the first grave in the mid 1800s. That shows in some parts. See that gravestone above?

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There are about 300,000 graves of soldiers here who fought in every war since the birth of the United States. Many of the graves are cenotaphs like the ones you see above. Cenotaphs are empty grave for those whose remains were not found or were somewhere else.

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The Arlington National Cemetery was originally the estate and mansion of the the great Confederate general, General Robert E Lee. The cemetery is named after the mansion, the Arlington House. The US Government converted Robert E Lee’s properties into a cemetery to prevent him from returning home after they considered him a traitor to have fought for the Confederates. They do that by placing graves of dead Union soldiers in the front of his mansion. Robert E Lee did not return to Arlington House after the start of the Civil War and the US Government seized his properties charging that he did not pay his taxes.

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We had a great view of the Pentagon from Arlington House. It was a huge building and I think it is the largest building in the world. Does anyone know if the Pentagon is opened for tourists?

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