Last week I had the opportunity to do something I had been wanting to do for a very long time: walk Arlington National Cemetery.
What a place. I wandered for hours, soaking up history in marble.
I knew immediately that I had to see it first hand when I caught parts of the outstanding Civil War series* of Ken Burns in the early 1990's. If you are not familiar with the story of Arlington, the ironies are amazing**. It was the property of Robert E. Lee, whom was offered command of the Union armies as war approached. He turned down the offer and resigned his commission, despite his commitment to preserving the Union, once his State, Virginia, also seceded. "I am willing to sacrifice everything but honor for its preservation". Arlington was soon occupied after the start of hostilities, and Lee never returned, instead serving as commander of Virginian and Confederate forces. Starting as a makeshift burial ground, it soon burgeoned, holding 16,000 dead by wars end. It was accorded National Military Cemetery status and currently holds over 320,000 remains. The National Park Service acquired Arlington in 1933 and undertook restoration of Lee's old house and grounds. In 1972 Arlington House was redesignated the Robert E Lee Memorial, the only National Monument in honor of someone who fought AGAINST the United States.
I highly recommend taking your kids to see it, particularly boys. Don't just pack them off on a school trip, though. Take a family trip, get away from the crowds at the "must see" monuments, and quietly wander the avenues. Or as the guide book says: "Wander through the cemetery, stray from the paved path, look at the names, and remember."
*If you are not American, you SHOULD still see this series. If you are American, you MUST see it.
**Apologies if some details are blurred