Weekend Wanderings: Arlington Cemetery

Put aside the bad press you may have read, Arlington Cemetery remains one of the best places to peacefully wander in the Washington, D.C., area.

Located in Arlington, Va., bounded by Fort Myer Army post, thoroughfares along the Potomac River, the Marine’s Henderson Hall and the Marine Corps War Memorial, Arlington Cemetery has stood in its simplicity since the Civil War. Gen. Robert E. Lee and his family were forced to flee the beloved Arlington House, which still stands. After Lee’s death, a son did get the property back, but soon sold it back to the federal government. Union soldiers are buried around the grounds near the home.

Ah, but while interesting, that bit of history is reasonably well-known. Get a free map and walk the streets. There are no cars and just the occasional sightseeing tram. Walk the rows of issued headstones and you may be surprised to find a Medal of Honor recipient you’ve heard of. We found several, but stumbled upon SFC Paul R. Smith, an Iraq War Medal of Honor recipient.

Section 5 has a large number of Naval Academy graduates, Class of ‘81 – 1881, that is. In that same section we found Navy Adm. Hyman Rickover – father of the nuclear Navy and one vilified by many. We found members of the House and Senate and a former secretary of war. The most surprising was the gathering of Supreme Court justices just waiting to meet us: Harry Blackmun, Thurgood Marshall, Potter Stewart, William J. Brennan Jr., and Chief Justice Warren Burger.

The visitor center, which still runs on mainly paper files, will look up someone of interest and give you the location of his or her burial site. My friend looked for a sergeant first class with whom he jumped into Panama and who was shot and killed during the invasion. He found him in Section 60, where those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan have been laid to rest.

I know no one at Arlington. I have no real military association, but I enjoy Arlington Cemetery and recommend it to history hunters of all ages.


Images courtesy of Arlington Cemetery

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