HOURS: Apr.-Sept. daily 8 a.m.-7 p.m.;
Oct.-Mar. daily 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
COST: Free; parking $1.75 per hour for 3 hours,
$3.50 per hour after 3 hours
The country’s second-oldest national cemetery, Arlington carries a powerful emotional punch, with its uniform rows of white marble markers, silent Changing of the Guard ceremony, and monuments that memorialize the country’s greatest conflicts and tragedies, including every war since the Revolution.
Heralded here are those who perished in many historic events: the loss of the Space Shuttles Challenger and Columbia; the sinking of the USS Maine; the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 just before Christmas 1988; and others.
Roughly 300,000 sets of remains are buried on the 612-acre property, which is expected to grow by another 60 acres in the next decade. Those interred on this hallowed land, which once belonged to Martha Washington’s granddaughter Mary Randolph Custis, include service members killed on active duty, retired military members, spouses, presidents, former slaves, and honored civilians.
When visiting Arlington, the Visitors Center is the recommended first stop. Here, guests can pick up a detailed map of the grounds, see exhibits on the cemetery’s history, and inquire as to whether bus service has resumed for mobile tours throughout the cemetery. Until October 2011, that service was provided by Tourmobile, an open tram system that made stops at every major site within the cemetery.
The physically fit can save some money and tour the burial grounds on foot, and until the National Park Service contracts with another company for bus tours, walking is the only way to get around Arlington National Cemetery, unless you have a relative buried there, in which case you may be eligible for a day pass for your car. Inquire at the Visitors Center. Be aware: Distances between the sites are vast.
Arlington contains a few can’t-miss places:
Holding the remains of unidentified soldiers from World War I, World War II, and the Korean War, the tomb dates to 1926, built from more than 50 tons of white Yule marble quarried from Colorado—the same type of stone used to build the Lincoln Memorial . It is guarded 24 hours a day by soldiers from the Army’s 3rd Infantry, called the Old Guard, headquartered at nearby Fort Myer, Virginia.
To become a tomb sentinel, soldiers must meet specific physical standards and pass a rigorous series of tests to ensure their ability to handle the task, which include marching 21 steps back and forth in front of the tomb in a wool uniform during the heat of the summer. From April to September, the unit changes the guard every half hour in a silent ceremony that draws large crowds. During winter months and at night, the guard is changed every hour in the same manner.
Until 1998 the tomb held the remains of a Vietnam war veteran; DNA evidence revealed that the unknown buried there was 1st Lt. Michael Blassie, an Air Force pilot shot down near An Loc in 1972. Blassie was disinterred and reburied at a veteran’s cemetery near his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri.
The Eternal Flame shines perpetually above the grave of President John F. Kennedy, on a grassy knoll that affords a magnificent view of the National Mall and its memorials. The spot, actually visited by Kennedy before his death, was approved by his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, who also requested the placement of the flame. Also buried at the John Carl Warnecke-designed site are wife Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis as well as two infant children who predeceased them. Their fourth child, John F. Kennedy Jr., was buried at sea in 1999.
The grave of Sen. Robert Kennedy, Kennedy’s brother, attorney general, and civil rights leader, is nearby, as is the grave of Sen. Ted Kennedy, the longest-serving Kennedy in public office; both are marked with simple white crosses and footstones.
Incorporating the original ceremonial entryway of Arlington Cemetery, this memorial, dedicated in 1997, pays tribute to women who have served in all five armed services and their affiliate women’s auxiliaries, including the World War II-era WAVES and WACS. The often overlooked structure contains a small exhibit hall, a hall of honor, and a register containing the names, service records, and photos of nearly 250,000 servicewomen.