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    Arlington National Cemetery was one of the first places we visited during our school field trip. Despite the time in which we visited this place, it remained as one of the few which I could think back to and remember throughout the entire trip with an undiluted memory.  This site is dedicated to the memory of every U.S. citizen that has ever served honorably in it’s military, and devoted his or her life to the defense of the country, mainly for those who have died to pay the full price of freedom. When Arlington was declared officially as a military cemetery in June 15th, 1864 by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, burials here became exclusive for U.S. citizens who had served honorably in the army, regardless of their position, rank, gender, or race. The only non-military members buried in Arlington are the crew of the Challenger space shuttle, Thurgood Marshall, some of the victims in the Pan Am 103 terrorist incident victims, and the members of the Kennedy family, excluding John F. Kennedy himself. Since John F. Kennedy served as president of the nation, he was Commander in Chief of the U.S. armed forces. Section 27 in Arlington cemetery also holds around 3800 graves marked as “citizen”, or “civilian”, because of the slave incident during the Civil War. During this war, land from Arlington Cemetery, which was formerly Mary Anne Custis Lee’s plantation, was taken from their family, which had fled to safer parts of the country. The land was granted to the slave workers in the plantation to keep and work on. When 1864 came, the plantation was taken back from them, and they were given a designated spot to be buried in. The only non-American to ever be buried in Arlington was Pierre Charles L’Enfant, who designed Washington D.C.  Before the Civil War, the plantation had belonged to Mary Anne Custis Lee, and never to Robert E. Lee, contrary to popular belief.  Mary Anne married Robert E. Lee, who was her very distant cousin. Robert took the crumbling plantation and house, and repaired them both.

            Arlington Cemetery is the second largest burial ground in the United States, with 6,400 funerals conducted each year. That’s roughly an average of 28 funerals each day. Grave counts are effectuated at the beginning of each year, since monthly numbers change considerably. At the beginning of this present year, 2009, the entire 1100 acre expanse held 310,000 graves. There are over 5000 unidentified soldiers buried at Arlington, all of whom are honored and remembered by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, guarded day and night 24 hours a day by the U.S. Old Guard. This tomb states that no U.S. soldier will ever be forgotten. When you enter Arlington, the vast majority of graves will be simple white marble headstones. These headstones contain the name of its occupant, his or her rank and position in the army, what war or special services he or she engaged in, and the dates of birth and death. These headstones are paid for by the Government. During past years, larder and more elaborate marble, rock, and granite tombs were allowed, but those had to be paid for by the responsible family. Because of space shortage, the government has decided to limit the graves to the simple white headstone only. There is only one wooden cross in the entire cemetery, and it belongs to Robert Kennedy. All other headstones have to be strictly made out of the previously mentioned materials, to keep maintenance swift and to a minimum. Only two presidents have ever been buried here. One of them is John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and the other one is William Howard Taft.

            Robert E. Lee’s adopted son, George Washington Custis Lee, claimed after General Lee’s death in 1870 that his mother’s land had unconstitutionally been taken away from his family. The case was taken to the Supreme Court, where in 1882, the justices voted in a 5-4 ratio in favor of George Washington Custis Lee. However, the U.S. Government bought the land back in March 3rd, 1883, for a total price of  $150,000.

            Arlington National Cemetery was by far one of my favorite sites, because it’s one of those places that immediately gives you the impression that you have a sixth sense, in a way. The moment my eyes took in that measureless span of earth covered by graves, I started feeling something stir deep inside me. It’s impossible for me to feel as connected to this place as other thousands of people would, because no events have ever linked me to this place emotionally or spiritually. But I still felt a sense of awe and fascination. The rows of graves were set up in lines that were perfectly straight. Not a single tomb looked even slightly out of place. The eternal flame at the Kennedy Family burial site left me breathless. The grave itself was beautifully constructed. Equally as moving was the simple white cross erected for Robert Kennedy, who refused to accept anything too portentous to honor him after his death. To think that his wishes were carried out even when they went against Arlington’s regulations is something special. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is an imposing structure of magnificent beauty. It gives off an aura of dignity, and seems to demand absolute respect at all times, as all other areas of the cemetery do as well. The Change of Guard ceremony I found axiomatically astounding. Each move made by the soldiers was made with flawless precision and accuracy. It was really a sight worth watching, and a site worth visiting.

 

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