on September 1, 2008
The nearest metro stop to our hotel, the Pentagon Plaza, is just one stop away from the Arlington National Cemetery. After walking our little feet off for two days, I knew that the Tourmobile http://www.tourmobile.com/ was going to be our best option for this day, and at $7.50 per person, a great deal.The Tourmobile makes 4 cemetery stops: Arlington Cemetery Visitors Center/Women in Military Service for America Memorial, the Kennedy Gravesites, Tomb of the Unknowns (Changing of the Guard) and Arlington House/Robert E. Lee Memorial. Over 320,000 service members, from the Civil War to the present rest on this land. It’s a beautiful spot, 624 acres, across the Potomac River from the Lincoln Memorial. The land originally belonged to George Washington’s adopted grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, and was intended to be a memorial to George Washington. Parke Custis and his wife lived in the Arlington House until their deaths in the mid-1850’s. Their only daughter, Mary Anna, inherited the house. Mary Anna was married to Robert E. Lee. In 1861, when war was imminent and Lee resigned his commission in the US Army, they left the home and land knowing it was likely lost when he became a Confederate officer.The government confiscated the land when Mrs. Lee did not return to pay the property taxes in person as was required. It was established as a national cemetery in 1864. The Lee’s son, George Washington Custis Lee, brought a suit alleging the land had been illegally confiscated and the land was returned to him. Congress then purchased title to the property from him for the sum of $150,000.Since then, many heroes, known and unknown, have been laid to rest on these green hills. The Memorial and Eternal Flame at the Kennedy gravesites overlooking the beautiful city of Washington DC inspire tranquility. It’s natural to be hushed and contemplative when reading quotes from President Kennedy inscribed on the granite stones. Astronauts from the Challenger and Columbia disasters are buried and/or memorialized as well as others from the space program. A portion of the mast from the USS Maine is installed on a hillside with a memorial and another section is devoted to Chief Justices and Associate Justices of the United States Supreme Court. Another famous area is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. Walk through the stunning, white marble Memorial Amphitheater on your way to watch the changing of the guard. The Amphitheater hosts 3 official annual memorial services every year: an Easter sunrise service, a Memorial Day service and a Veteran’s Day service. A Memorial Display Room, between the Amphitheater and the Tomb of the Unknowns displays tributes to service members bestowed by many organizations and countries. Photos are also displayed that show the processionals and pageantry surrounding the burial of each of the unknowns.The changing of the guard is a fascinating ceremony to witness. The tomb is guarded 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, rain or shine, snow, sleet or hail. The guards chosen as sentinels must meet very strict requirements and are all volunteers. It’s a great honor to qualify to guard this tomb of soldiers "Known but to God." The ceremony is very precise and meaningful. The changing of the guard occurs every half hour from April 1-Sept 30, and every hour the rest of the year. I highly recommend using the Tourmobile. The tour is narrated and you may ride as much or as little as you want. Tour an area until YOU are ready to go, then catch the next bus.
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