Paying our respects and heading out

We didn’t get to do Arlington National Cemetery our first day there (thanks Google!) and I really wanted to. We had breakfast at the hotel — this hotel had some really interesting breakfast items — and checked out then drove over to the cemetery.

They open at 8 and we got there about 9 and I’m glad we did. There was a short line for the tram tour and we got on the first one, by the time we left at 11:30 the line was about four times as long.

It was so hot and humid. We did the tram and got off at JFK’s grave, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier just in time for the changing of the guard and the Iwo Jima Memorial, which is a short hike outside of the cemetery gates so you have to do through security coming back in. There are many more stops and things to see but it was hot and humid, we were tired and did need to get going. So we tried to hit the highlights.

My family visited in 1984 and I don’t remember much except being really awed by the rows and rows of grave markers. I did notice that there are blank markers so not all the graves are filled. There are also a number of irregular markers. The tour guide said the cemetery used to allow privately-purchased markers but stopped because they took up too much space.

Row on row of markers, perfectly straight no matter which direction you look.
Some of the older, irregular markers
If you look close you can see these are two 20 year old soldiers. Doesn’t seem to right to sacrifice your life before you’ve had a chance to live it. And there are people younger than that buried there.
A young WWII soldier

The tour guide said President Kennedy’s spot was chosen because he had visited the cemetery, stood in that spot and said “I could stay here forever.”.

Eternal flame

We got off the tram just in time to run up the steps and stand in the very back for the  changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was really neat. There was a big group there from Girls Nation and they got to participate in a special ceremony afterwards, although we never found out exactly what. They played taps, though. We asked a volunteer inside and he just said any group can do a ceremony and there are several types to pick from. Then they went around to the amphitheater in the back. I don’t know what they did but we could hear them singing.


Across the road was the memorials for the Challenger and Columbia crews so we walked over to look at those.

Then  back on the tram for the Iwo Jima memorial.

Katy standing in front of it for scale. It’s massive

After going back through security we waited on the tram for awhile and then rode back to the visitors’ center. Our guide on that tram recited part of In Flander’s Fields and gave everyone a poppy as they got off.

Then we tried to head home. Took us two hours to go 24 miles. We made it to North Carolina but I don’t remember where we stayed.

The next day it took us 9. 5 hours to drive what should have taken about five. Mostly it was wrecks slowing us down.

We finally made it home. It was an exhausting, fun and educational vacation. I’m thinking a resort somewhere sounds good for next year.

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