Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A grateful nation honoring the known and the unknown: Veterans Day 2009

I took this photo on a cold, crisp morning in December of last year. This stark and simple monument, on the eastern plaza of the Memorial Amphitheater in Arlington National Cemetery, commands a breathtaking view of our nation’s capital. The city of Washington, in the District of Columbia (my birthplace), can be seen in the distance. Known as the Tomb of the Unknowns, the white marble sarcophagus has three Greek figures, representing Peace, Victory, and Valor, sculpted into the east panel which faces Washington. On Nov. 11, 1921, the Unknown Soldier from World War I was interred at the site. President Warren G. Harding officiated at the ceremonies. The Unknown Soldier was meant to be symbolic of all service members who lost their lives during World War I, “The Great War, the war to end all wars.” In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill to pay tribute to the unknowns of World War II and Korea. The interment of these unknowns took place in 1958. After a final selection process, each received the Medal of Honor and they were placed beside their comrade from World War I. On Memorial Day in 1984, President Reagan presided over the presentation of the Medal of Honor to the Vietnam Unknown and interment. (After the Vietnam remains were identified in 1998, it was decided that the crypt that contained the remains of the Vietnam Unknown will remain vacant.)

Veterans and their family members, representing our nation’s wars from the American Civil War to today’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, are all buried here. Covering 624 acres of rolling Virginia hillsides, more than 300,000 people are buried in Arlington.

Later today, President Barack Obama will come here to take part in a ceremony honoring all of our nation’s veterans. This day, Veterans Day, is the anniversary of the end of World War I. Originally called Armistice Day, it is celebrated as a federal holiday each year on November 11. The name of the holiday was changed in 1954 to Veterans Day to honor those who died in all American wars.


Sunny said...

I never realized that there were that many people buried at Arlington. This is an area I would like to visit and also Washington DC.
Your picture is awesome with the Capital in the background.
Sunny :)

Lois said...

A powerful post Frank!

Frank said...

@ Sunny - An average of 25 burials take place at Arlington EVERY day. To see the U.S. Army's Old Guard, the horses pulling the caisson and the families marching through the cemetery is one of the most moving and emotional scenes any person can every witness.

Jacob said...

Thank you for sharing this. I've not been to Arlington, so I really appreciate seeing your photo; especially today.

Frank said...

@ Jacob - Our nation's entire history is represented. From Robert E. Lee's home on the hilltop, to the Kennedy's graves down in front of it, to everyday men and women to real military heroes, they are all here. Across from my family's grave sites in Section One are hundreds of graves of Civil War dead...many unknowns. The Custis family, Lee's wife's family, are buried in a special area. You MUST visit, see a funeral procession and walk the fields past American history. It is terribly moving and unforgettable.

The History Man said...

What a great photo of one of the nations most reverent places. It made me think of my DAD!


Corker2 said...

Being a Vietnam Vet, this is one place that I would like to see someday. It must be a real awesome sight to see the Changing Of The Guard. The Old Guard is also known as the "Nations Toy Soldiers."