Washington DC Day 1: Arlington Cemetery and Respect

Arlington Cemetery – 4/11/15

 

Citizens buried next to military. Fathers buried next to sons. Wives buried next to husbands. Confederates buried next to Yankees.

 

It’s gusty here. Most of the trees are budding. The cherry blossoms are in peak bloom.

 

I’m standing at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, 10:25 am. The Ten O’Clock changing of the guard has just concluded. The view stretches north over the Potomac River and spans a large slice of the Washington DC cityscape. Down the grand stairway from the tomb lies a courtyard. The courtyard is suitably lined with trees sporting freshly manicured crew-cuts that even the toughest drill sergeant would approve of.

 

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Etched into the tomb reads, “HERE RESTS IN HONORED GLORY AN AMERICAN SOLDIER KNOWN BUT TO GOD”

 

The changing of the guard ceremony was like I remembered from my 5th grade field trip. It has more meaning now that I’m probably older than whoever’s remains are laid to rest in the tomb before me.

 

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Blooming magnolia trees surround the grave of President John Kennedy and his wife and children.

 

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“never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee…” – John Donne (1624)

 


The following was written while I stood at the World War II Memorial:


 

 

What an absurdly diverse set of people. They’re a whole separate attraction unto itself..

 

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The WWII Memorial is the most recently constructed war memorial (2004)

 

I went through the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam and Korean War Memorials earlier this afternoon. Reading the 2nd term inauguration speech from Lincoln was intense. Towards the end he says something to the effect of,

 


“if all the wealth accumulated through the exploitation of slaves is spent to fund the Civil War and if all the blood spilt by slaves is equaled by the blood spilt during the Civil War, so be it. If unity between the North and South can be restored, it will be worth it.”


 

 

The financial and physical state of the country will be leveled, but her ideals will have withstood their test of mettle, and she can begin to walk the walk the Declaration of Independence talks.

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Read from “Yet if the wealth…”

 

Lincoln’s election is what prompted southern states to begin seceding, and he was assassinated a few weeks after the war ended. It’s all he did while in office, strain to bring the country back from the brink of collapse.

 

I wish he could see what all that effort produced. I wonder what he would have to say, what would surprise him and what he happily or unhappily expected.

 

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Lincoln Memorial. The reflecting pool was drained for maintenance.

 

The war memorials are interesting to walk through.

 

I’m here on a Saturday so I don’t know how much that matters, but they’re absolutely packed with visitors. Everyone has their own way of enjoying them. The question of what behavior is respectful or disrespectful keeps floating up.

 

Kids climbing and screaming, old ladies sitting on the steps of the tomb of the unknown soldier, fathers jockeying with each other to get the perfect picture, teens wading in the fountains that say “No Swimming”, walking on grass behind fences and signs that plead otherwise, me riding my bike through foot traffic, litter and loudness. (I tried to avoid riding too close to the monuments but I got overconfident and scolded by a park ranger)

 

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Cherry blossoms lined the walkway around the intertidal zone leading to the Thomas Jeffersons Memorial.

 

I’ve decided that dwelling on what is and isn’t respectful is its own form of disrespect.

 

To allow someone else’s actions to affect your enjoyment of a memorial is to cheapen the value of that memorial and render its ability to impact you to the level of a single person’s actions for a few minutes on a sunny afternoon.

 

Easier said than done though.

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