Point of Interest - Arlington National Cemetery

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Arlington National Cemetery

Lying directly across the Potomac River from the famous Lincoln Memorial and connected to it by the Arlington Memorial Bridge, Arlington National Cemetery is perhaps the most somber and most revered of all of America’s military cemeteries. American veterans from back to the Civil War era rest in honor on the grounds, as do reinterred soldiers from earlier conflicts. Some of the most famous names in American history lie among them.

Today, the cemetery covers 639 hallowed acres, expanded from 200 originally. More than 400,000 veterans and their dependents have been interred here. The U.S. Department of the Army administers the site.

History

The site did not begin as a cemetery. At first, it was established as the Arlington Estate by Estate by George Washington Parke Custis, adopted grandson of George Washington, as a living memorial to the nation’s first president and most famous Founding Father. Custis’s daughter, Mary Custis Lee, inherited the estate after her father died, and her husband, the to-be Confederate General Robert E. Lee, was the executor although he never owned it.

In 1861, the Lees left the location and the U.S. Army took it over as a strategic protection point for the Capital. That same year, the first U.S. soldier received interment there, and in June 1861, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton declared the site a national cemetery. At that time, the cemetery was less a supreme honor and more a promise of a proper burial for soldiers whose families could not afford to return them home.

On May 30, 1968, Arlington Cemetery hosted the first official Declaration Day, now called Memorial Day, a day to honor all fallen and missing soldiers. That tradition endures to this day, and every year over Memorial Day Weekend, the cemetery draws thousands of veterans and those who wish to pay tribute to them and their fallen brothers and sisters.

Famous Sites

A stroll through the lanes of Arlington National Cemetery is at once a stroll through a parade of immortal names and a reminder that much of the history they shaped included men and women whose names aren’t in history books but live on in their descendants’ traditions. 

Among all the veteran soldiers are also Supreme Court Justices, storied generals, and even two U.S. Presidents. However, there are two sites that probably garner the most attention.

The first is the gravesite of President John F. Kennedy, assassinated in 1963. At the site is the “eternal flame.” Kennedy’s wife, Jacqueline, and several other family members are buried close by.

The other is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In 1921, remains of unnamed WW1 soldiers were buried here in honor of their sacrifices. As time passed, remains of an unknown soldier from subsequent wars found a final home there as well. Since 1937, soldiers have guarded the Tomb around the clock, and the routine they follow, with the discipline and precision involved attracts witnesses from around the country and the world.

Criteria for Burial

As the population has grown and space to do the same has not kept pace, the criteria for burial in Arlington National Cemetery have tightened. All active-duty veterans and veterans who are retired and eligible for pension meet the criteria; after that, it gets more complicated. Still, many who may not be eligible for in-ground interment are eligible for above-ground services here before transfer to their final resting place.

Visitation

Arlington National Cemetery is open every day from 8 A.M. until 5 P.M. ID checks are required at entrances. There is no cost for admission. For more information, please see the official website.

If you’d like to learn more about Arlington, click here to read about Mount Vernon Trail.

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