Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery, the most famous cemetery in the country, is the final resting place for many of our nation’s greatest heroes, including more than 300,000 veterans of every American conflict, from the Revolutionary War to Iraq and Afghanistan.  Since its founding in 1866, Arlington National Cemetery has provided a solemn place to reflect upon the sacrifices made by the men and women of the United States Armed Forces in the name of our country.

The following pictures were taken in April 2023 during a visit to the cemetery. Unfortunately, I was unable to share my videos of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Please see Arlington National Cemetery for more information.

There are several memorials on the grounds of the cemetery. However, due to the lack of space for burials and the large amount of space that memorials take up, the U.S. Army now requires a joint or concurrent resolution from Congress before it will place new memorials at Arlington.

The USS Maine Memorial

Near the Tomb of the Unknowns stands the USS Maine Mast Memorial, which commemorates the 266 men who died aboard the USS Maine. The memorial is built around a mast salvaged from the ship’s wreckage.

The Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial

The Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial was dedicated on May 20, 1986, in memory of the crew of flight STS-51-L, who died during launch on January 28, 1986. Transcribed on the back of the stone is the text of the John Gillespie Magee, Jr. poem High Flight, which was quoted by then President Ronald Reagan when he addressed the disaster. Although many remains were identified and returned to the families for a private burial, some were not and were laid to rest under the marker. Two crew members, Dick Scobee, and Michael Smith, are buried in Arlington.

Shuttle Columbia Memorial

On February 1, 2004, NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe dedicated a similar memorial to those who died when the Shuttle Columbia broke apart during reentry on February 1, 2003. Astronauts Laurel Clark, David Brown, and Michael Anderson, who were killed in the Columbia disaster, are also buried in Arlington.

In section 64, a memorial to the 184 victims of the September 11 attacks on the Pentagon was dedicated on September 11, 2002. The memorial takes the shape of a pentagon and lists the names of all the victims that were killed. Unidentified remains from the victims are buried beneath it.

Eternal Flame Memorial to President John F. Kennedy

Other Notable Gravesites and Memorials

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier stands atop a hill overlooking Washington, D.C. One of the more well-attended sites at the cemetery, the tomb is made from Yule marble quarried in Colorado. It consists of seven pieces, with a total weight of 79 tons. The tomb was completed and opened to the public on April 9, 1932, for $48,000.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in 1922
Honor Guards (2005)

Other unknown servicemen were later placed in crypts there, and it also became known as the Tomb of the Unknowns, though it has never been officially named. The soldiers entombed there are:

  • Unknown Soldier of World War I, entombed November 11, 1921.
  • Unknown Soldier of World War II, interred May 30, 1958.
  • Unknown Soldier of the Korean War was also interred on May 30, 1958.
  • Unknown Soldier of the Vietnam War, interred May 28, 1984. The remains of the Vietnam Unknown were disinterred, under the authority of President Bill Clinton, on May 14, 1998, and were identified as those of Air Force First Lieutenant Michael J. Blassie, whose family had them reinterred near their home in St. Louis, Missouri. It has been determined that the crypt at the Tomb of the Unknowns that contained the remains of the Vietnam Unknown will remain empty.

Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier video.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier has been perpetually guarded since July 2, 1937, by the U.S. Army. The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (“The Old Guard”) began guarding the Tomb on April 6, 1948. The guard follows a meticulous routine when watching over the graves. The Tomb Guard:

  1. Marches 21 steps southward down the black mat behind the Tomb
  2. Turns left, facing east for 21 seconds
  3. Turns left, facing north for 21 seconds
  4. Takes 21 steps down the mat
  5. Repeats the routine until the soldier is relieved of duty at the changing of the guard

After each turn, the Guard executes a sharp “shoulder-arms” movement to place the weapon on the shoulder closest to the visitors to signify that the Guard stands between the Tomb and any possible threat.

Twenty-one was chosen because it symbolizes the highest military honor that can be bestowed – the 21-gun salute.

At each turn, the guard makes precise movements followed by a loud click of the heels as the soldier snaps them together. The guard is changed every half-hour during daylight in the summer, and every hour during daylight in the winter, and every two hours at night (when the cemetery is closed to the public), regardless of weather conditions.

Freedman’s Village

Beginning in 1863, the federal government used the southern portion of the land now occupied by the cemetery as a settlement for freed slaves, giving the name “Freedman’s Village” to the ground. The government constructed rental houses that 1,100 to 3,000 freed slaves eventually occupied while farming 1,100 acres of the estate and receiving schooling and occupational training during the Civil War and after the War’s end.

About Allen Mesch

Allen is an author, educator, and historian. He has written six books: The Analyst; Teacher of Civil War Generals; Your Affectionate Father, Charles F. Smith; Charles A. Marvin - "One Year. Six Months, and Eleven Days", Preparing for Disunion, and Ebenezer Allen - Statesman, Entrepreneur, and Spy. He taught classes on the American Civil War at Collin College. He has visited more than 130 Civil War sites and given presentations at Civil War Roundtables.
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1 Response to Arlington National Cemetery

  1. Sharlyn Mesch says:

    Well done.


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