May 14, 2014
It was the bitterness of Quartermaster Gen. Montgomery Meigs that first led to the cemetery’s creation.
Angry that his former mentor, Robert E. Lee, had joined the rebellion and desperate for more space to bury the accumulating dead of the Civil War, Meigs recommended that the Lee estate overlooking Washington be turned into a graveyard. Burials had already begun by the time approval came through on June 15, 1864.
A century later, it was with a simple nod of her head that Jacqueline Kennedy acquiesced to the gravesite for her husband on the slope below the Lee Arlington House. She insisted that the assassinated president be laid to rest in a public, accessible place because “he belongs to the people.”
A half-century after that, it was the outpouring of grief by young widows, parents and battle buddies that led to the only consistent splash of color within 624 acres of cemetery — the balloons, childhood drawings, stuffed Easter bunnies and unopened bottles of beer left on the graves of Iraq and Afghanistan war dead.
The now-widely recognized Section 60 is a long stroll from popular tourist sites such as the Kennedy grave and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Unlike the deceased retired military that make up most of the 27-30 burials that occur at Arlington each day, the dead of Section 60 were so young, that the grieving here is far more intense.
So it is a place where a grieving father may be seen laying prostrate on his son’s grave or where a mother sits in a thunderous downpour unaware that her lawn chair is sinking into a softening earth.
Those who mourn regularly have coalesced into a kind of club, but one that one mother conceded “nobody wants to be in.”
For visitors who stroll the walkways or ride the trolleys across the cemetery, there are more stories than a single trip can encompass.
I am reminded of a line from a favorite movie. "There must be ghosts...", or at least the lingering echoes of a grief too deep for words.
So many gone, too soon.
Posted by Cassandra at May 14, 2014 07:42 AM
TrackBack URL for this entry:
I love to walk through Arlington. It's something that I always do alone, and usually on the spur of the moment. (By which I mean: "A disabled vehicle blocking the only lane of southbound I-95 not currently under construction has traffic backed up all the way to Rhode Island - the state. You probably should go for a nice quite walk somewhere."
I never have a destination, I just park the car and start walking. And because I am almost always on my way home from some law-thing, I'm in full battle dress, Esq. All of which freaks out the cemetery staff because an old white guy in blue suit wandering around and talking to himself is either a Congressman, or worse. But I'm just a man taking a quiet walk, shaded beneath its ample boughs, through gardens made beautiful as the soul of our nation.
Posted by: spd rdr at May 14, 2014 05:50 PM
It is a beautiful place, and oddly peaceful.
Posted by: Cass at May 14, 2014 06:09 PM
Very nice, Cass. Thank you.
Posted by: Capt Mongo at May 15, 2014 08:29 AM
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
Where now is the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing?
Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing?
Where is the hand on the harp string, and the red fire glowing?
They have passed like rain on the mountain, like a wind in the meadow;
The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow.
Who shall gather the smoke of the deadwood burning,
Or behold the flowing years from the Sea returning?
Posted by: Don Brouhaha at May 15, 2014 09:47 PM
Don, that still sends a little shiver down my spine every time I read it.
Posted by: Cass at May 16, 2014 08:03 AM