Over My Dead Body, the recent book by Greg Melville, certainly brought back memories. He devoted one whole chapter, # 11, to Arlington National Cemetery. This book’s subtitle, “Unearthing the Hidden History of America’s Cemeteries” says it all, and learning more about Arlington is one of the reasons why I read it. I learned that I actually knew very little about this national icon of a place. America’s cemeteries are changing and Arlington is among them. It’s expected to run out of space by 2040. This chapter’s own subheading says it all. It’s own subheading and this chapter’s other subtitle is “Sweet and fitting to die for one’s country”. The book goes on to say that this cemetery’s success is as a national monument to war ” has made many Americans too eager to fill it.” and the author goes on to recall chaperoning his daughter’s 5th grade class on a visit to Arlington during which he focused on what he calls dad jokes.
Two Presidents including Kennedy are buried in Arlington and it’s a popular destination for field trips. The other ex-President buried here is William Howard Taft. Ruth and my granddaughter just returned from a visit to Washington, DC, and seeing this cemetery was part of this trip’s itinerary. Melville points out that 3 million people see Arlington each year to witness, among other sights, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The reason why space is running out is because 25 burials occur there each day. It is a very popular spot to bury military veterans at Robert E. Lee’s one-time plantation.
There are government sponsored burial grounds all over the world, and Ruth and I have made it a practice to visit them and even participate in veterans’ funerals when possible. This practice may be coming to an end soon as many sites are running out of space. We have been to national cemeteries in Washington State, Tennessee, and Hawaii among other places. I am indeed sorry that one friend named Tom who used to live in Washington abandoned his plan to publish a book about the many secular monuments that exist in this national capitol. This always struck me as a good subject for a book, and one of our best trips included a Memorial Day during which we visited the World War I gathering, the Viet Nam Memorial, and the World War II national site. We also learned about National Decoration Day by reading about it in this book.
But this is not my best memory of Washington, DC, which is a lot closer to St. Louis as a travel destination than our current residence in Washington State. My sister and her husband Don once moved to this city, and we visited them almost yearly in Arlington. We would include the Fourth of July when possible to attend the national party with fireworks across the river from Arlington. We usually parked ourselves at the statue of Iwo Jima that is part of this cemetery’s monuments to watch the fireworks. It was a magical treat each year to share this celebration with family, and I vividly remember visiting musical performances of military bands with them. I even recall attending the annual, national TV broadcast one year without them.
But things change and they finally sold their house in Virginia and moved back to St. Louis. This ended the visits to Washington, DC abruptly even though Ruth and I continued to visit our national capitol as often as we could. Most recently we saw the relatively new African American Museum that is part of the Smithsonian’s gathering of monuments under somewhat unusual circumstances. We also saw the Trump Hotel that is in Washington, but it made me feel uncomfortable even though I wrote about both places on this blog.