R & R in DC, day 3

2010 April 29
by Maggie Williams


Didn’t get much sleep last night, having gone to bed at 2:00am and all.  Oh well.  Met a new roommate this morning.  As I was laying in bed I heard her talking with someone and it sounded Australian at first but I thought I’d wait a tic to make sure.  Sho ’nuff, I detected a little Kiwi,  so having that extra tidbit, I engaged.  I open my eyes and looked up and said “Kiwi”?  She said yeah and grinned, presumably at me not having confused her for an Aussie.  Her name is Mel (Melanie).  Had I opened my eyes first, I probably wouldn’t have had to invoke the full extent of my accent detector.  Mel is Maori, and has that exotic south pacific look.  Nice girl, we chatted for a bit.

After a nice long breakfast and chatting with most of the gang from last night as they trickled in and trickled out again, I got showered and dressed and out the door.  My destination today was Arlington National Cemetery.  I walked the five blocks or so to the metro station and hopped the train to the same named stop.  A short walk took me to the entrance to the cemetery and in I went.  We are free to roam about but there is a tram option for a reasonable $7.50 as well.  I got on the tram which makes drops and pick ups at three main sites throughout the grounds and we are free to hop on and off at any time.

arlingtonI jumped off at the first stop and decided to walk most of the rest myself.  It was such a beautiful day; not a cloud in the sky, about 68 degrees, the birds were chirping, and the carillons were playing from a nearby church.  Magnificent views of DC’s monuments are had from the hills of Arlington.  It’s  a powerful place indeed.  The brochures say this is “where valor rests”, a sentiment that is ever present while walking these grounds.

20 to 35 people are buried here each day and I encountered three burials and processions in progress while there.   Service men and woman from every war and conflict rest here.  The list of notables include two American presidents and their families, Supreme Court Justices, Astronauts, sports figures, explorers, and politicians and the pilot of flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon.  There are also memorials to the USS Serpens, PanAm flight 103, Beirut Barracks, The Rough Riders, the USS Maine, Spanish American War Nurses, the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle crews, The Iran rescue mission, and more.

I read some of  the tombstones I passed, enjoyed my surroundings, and heard the roar of a jet overhead and looked up to see an F15 Eagle flying over.  I set out for the Tomb of the Unknowns.  guardThis tomb houses an unknown serviceman from WWI, WWII and Korea and is guarded by a sentry from the Army 3rd Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, regardless of weather.  I was going to see the changing of the guard, an impressive and moving ceremony.

You see, I came to Washington DC with my parents when I was a child and well, there was the incident at the tomb of the unknowns see.  The guard marches back and forth in front of the tomb with his loaded and shouldered weapon.  The public stands behind a rope line and as a child, my head just came up to the rope itself.  For some reason, I stepped out beyond the line and that guard turned toward, brought his weapon to bear and ordered me back.  Wide eyed and frozen with fear, I began my flight through the air backward and over the rope as my father had grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and put me back in place at his side.  So, it was my mission to not have a repeat performance this time.

guardsI arrived just as the changing of the guard began.  Don’t cross the line, don’t cross the line, I kept telling myself.  I did fine and and after the ceremony I stuck around for a few minutes to watch the new guard.  Looking very sharp in his dress blacks, not a scuff on his shoes, not a wrinkle on his uniform, nothing out of place, he walked 21 steps from one end to the other, turns and pauses 21 seconds and walks 21 steps to the other end and repeats this over and over and over.  And he does this until he is relieved.

I then made my way to Arlington House on top of the biggest hill.  OK, it’s like this.  George Custis, grandson of Martha Washington and step-son of George Washington, inherited and lived on this land and  in 1818, built Arlington House.  In 1831, George’s daughter Anna married Lt. Robert E. Lee, then of the United States Army, and the couple lived here for 30 years.

As the Civil War began, Lee resigned his commission at the house saying he could not fight against his fellow Virginians.  After he and his wife had fled the estate, Federal troops  occupied the land making it a headquarters.  Before long the war dead began to be buried on the estate and by the time General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of the South, 16,000 were buried on the plantation at Arlington.  Over the years, one thing led to another and Arlington National Cemetery became what it is today.  It’s kind of the ultimate insult I suppose.

Because the property actually belonged to a Washington and apparently Robert E. Lee believed slavery was wrong, even though HE OWNED SLAVES, Congress dedicated Arlington House and its restoration as a memorial to Robert E. Lee.  I don’t think I care for that notion much.  But the view from Arlington House is lovely.


I left mid afternoon and wondered what to do next.  I decided I was tired and headed back to the hostel to relax.  This is supposed to be some down time after all.  I had been planning to join the walk through Georgetown and GW University tonight, but I petered out of that too and just had supper and relaxed and got on line and talked with whomever came over.  It was a good day.



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