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Day Trip: Arlington

By Staff | Jun 10, 2016

Editor’s Note: In the coming weeks, I will offer some destinations that make for good day or multi-day trips at little or no cost that my family and I?have done.

Arlington National Cemetery is a treasure. . .a place of history and honor that everyone should make a visit to at least once. For those who live so close, as do those in the Eastern Panhandle, it’s an easy day trip and well worth any traffic jams on the Beltway.

The Cemetery is comprised of land that once belonged to George Washington Parke Custis, grandson of Martha Washington and step-grandson of George Washington

In 1857, Custis willed the 1,100 acre property to his dauther, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, who was married to Robert E. Lee. After the Lee family left the estate in 1861 at the onset of the Civil War, federal troops occupied the property as a camp and headquarters.

In 1863, the government established Freedman’s Village on a portion of the land as a way to assist slaves transitioning to freedom.

As the number of Civil War casualties was outpacing other local cemeteries, the property became a burial location. The first military burial took place on May 13 1864, for Private William Christman. On June 15, the War Department officially set aside approximately 200 acres to use as a cemetery. By the end of the war, thousands of service members and former slaves were buried there. Ultimately the Lee family was compensated for the land and it remained under the possession of the War Department.

Today the Cemetery serves as a shrine to those who have honorably served the nation during times of war and times of peace. The Cemetery is the final resting place for more than 400,000 active duty service members, veterans and their families.

Two presidents are buried there: John F. Kennedy who lies beneath the eternal flame in a cordoned section surrounded by a wall engraved with many of the President’s comments; and Howard Taft.

In addition, there are memorials throughout the cemetery, and trees dedicated to various individuals and groups. There are monuments to Civil War soldiers, nurses, space shuttle casualties and many more.

Probably the most famous monument within the Cemetery is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This tomb includes the remains of unknown service members from World War I, World War II and the Korean War.

Soldiers from the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) keep a 24-hour-a-day vigil at the tomb, 365-days per year regardless of weather conditions.

Information about the Old Guard includes that each soldier takes 21 steps before returning to his starting point. It alludes to the 21-gun salute which is the highest honor given to an military or foreign dignitary. The soldier waits 21 seconds before turning for his return march, again alluding to the salute. The soldier carries the rifle on the shoulder away from the tomb. After his march across the path, he executes an about face and moves the rifle to the outside shoulder.

For a person to apply for guard duty at the tomb, he must be between 5’10 and 6′ 2 tall and his waist size cannot exceed 30.’ He must commit two years of life to guard the tomb, live in a barracks under the tomb and cannot drink any alcohol on or off duty for the rest of his life.

Just outside one of the gates of Arlington Cemetery stands the United States Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima Memorial).

Dedicated 62 years ago in 1954, it is dedicated to all U.S. Marine Corps personnel who have died in the defense of the United States since 1775.

Next stop: Mount Vernon, home of George and Martha Washington.