Nov. 11 is the day that marked the signing of the armistice between the Allied forces and Germany to end World War I. Most recognize this day as Veterans Day, which is a federal holiday that recognizes all veterans from all wars for their sacrifice.
On Veterans Day I think of the trips that I have taken to Washington D.C. In particular the visits to Arlington National Cemetery. I have been fortunate enough to travel there on a few school trips, as well as a few family trips.
Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place to more than 400,000 American soldiers and their families. Any member of the United States armed forces who perished in active duty is eligible to be buried at Arlington, as well as select family members.
Imagine yourself approaching the gates, and prepare for a life changing walk.
You proceed through the visitors center and into the cemetery. You begin to walk down the tree lined path and suddenly the rows of grave sites begin.
The grave sites lined perfectly straight. From every angle the sites align perfectly. The lush greens of the trees are accented by colorful shrubbery which highlights the white marble grave markers intensely.
Behind you, you hear the clatter of hooves on the asphalt. A horse drawn carriage is bringing a casket draped with the stars and stripes. All movement in the area ceases. Whispers of the cemetery guests came completely silent. An ominous feeling falls over the area. The guests watch the small procession make its way through. Another brave soul had arrived at their final resting place.
You continue through the cemetery and approach the John F. Kennedy grave site. An eternal flame burns for the fallen President John F. Kennedy, who lays next to his wife Jacqueline. The grave site is difficult for many guests, because for some, the day of Kennedy’s assassination still remains vivid.
Surrounding the grave site are marble walls, with famous quotes from Kennedy. During one of my visits, my grandfather felt himself get choked up, stating he could hear “Jack,” referring to President Kennedy, saying those quotes. The trip had extra sentiment for him. A former teacher with a passion for history, had never been to Washington D.C.
As you continue deeper into the grounds, you arrive at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This grave site monument is for the unknown soldier of World War I.
The tomb is guarded 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year by one of the military’s most exclusive branch, the 3rd infantry of the United States Army.
This is a division given the honor of protect one of the most distinct, and hallowed shrines of our nation. They’re designated their own distinct uniform, including identical sunglasses. Each guard, or sentinel, as they are referred to, are the same size and build. The uniform is kept perfectly and not a speck of lint or a subtle wrinkle can be found.
The tomb overlooks the Lincoln memorial and the rest of the National Mall. The changing of the guards is a solemn ceremony, yet an incredible thing to behold.
I’m overcome with thoughts and emotions when walking through Arlington. I’m saddened that we live in a world that could cause so much death and pain. My sadness, however, transforms into thankfulness. I am thankful for the men and women who lay at rest in Arlington, and thankful for the countless others who lay elsewhere. I am thankful for the sacrifice that they have made, to protect me and my family, and the country that I love.
A walk through Arlington National Cemetery is a humbling experience, one that everyone should take in their lifetime.