When you visit Washington DC, please take the time to go across the Potomac River to visit three very moving places, the Pentagon Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, and the Iwo Jima Memorial.
The Pentagon Memorial
The Pentagon Memorial was established to remember the events of 9/11 in Washington. “We claim this ground in remembrance of the events of September 11, 2001. To honor the 184 people whose lives were lost, their families, and all who sacrifice that we may live in freedom. We will never forget.”
This memorial is not the easiest to get to. Your best bet is to take the Metro and get off at the Pentagon station. It takes a bit of a walk all around the Pentagon building to get to the northwest side of the building and the signs pointing the way are not very clear. Remember there are no pictures allowed anywhere near the building except in the area of the memorial. The benches are engraved with the victims’ names and are arranged in order of date of birth and where they were when they died. The Pentagon victims’ names are arranged to be read facing the Pentagon. The American Airlines Flight 77 victims’ names are arranged to be facing skyward. It is extremely quiet here which is surprising since there are planes constantly flying by the Pentagon. Which in itself is a little nerve-racking to watch.
Arlington, the Nation’s Cemetery
This place is beyond impressive. I recommend signing up for the bus tour to see all the major stops: the Kennedy gravesites, the Tomb of the Unknowns, and Arlington House otherwise it is quite a hike to see everything. The bus drops you off at the stops, and there will be another one in a few minutes to pick you up if you want to stay longer at each of the sites. There are so many moving areas within the cemetery. Looking out over the Sea of Stones is probably the most striking visual you can have. There are thousands and thousands of headstones of military personnel from the Revolutionary War to soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq.
At the stop for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, you can see the memorials for the crews of the Challenger, the Columbia, and the soldiers who died attempting to rescue Americans being held hostage in Iran in 1980. You can also see one of the most decorated war hero’s headstones, Audie Murphy, where people leave trinkets and mementos to honor him.
The Kennedy Grave Sites is another moving area. John F Kennedy is buried underneath the eternal flame next two of his children and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Directly across from the graves is a low wall looking out over the cemetery with quotes from his Inaugural Address. Also nearby are the gravesites of other Kennedy family members.
Aeschylus wrote: In our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God. What we need in the United States in not division; what we need in the United Stats is not hatred; what we need in the United States in not violence or lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black. Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and our people.
And so, my fellow Americans ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.
The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it – and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.
The Memorial Amphitheater
The Memorial Amphitheater is where they hold the Easter, Memorial, and Veterans Day ceremonies. There is a chapel beneath the stage and even a Memorial Display room that houses tributes to the unknown soldiers buried in the Tomb of the Unknowns.
I was able to witness the Wreath Laying Ceremony first thing in the morning at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Very moving to watch the four youngsters, who each lost their father in service, lay the wreath in front of the tomb. I don’t know how they made it through the ceremony so stoically. I even had tears in my eyes watching this.
I stuck around to watch the Changing of the Guard Ritual, which occurs every half hour in the summer. The Tomb of the Unknowns is guarded 24 hours a day, rain or shine, all year round by Tomb Guard sentinels. The ritual includes the Tomb Guard marching 21 steps down the black mat behind the Tomb, turns and faces east for 21 seconds then turns and faces north for 21 seconds. Then walks another 21 steps down the mat and repeats the process. After the turn, the guard executes a sharp”shoulder-arms” movement to place the weapon on the shoulder closest to the crowd watching to signify that the guard stands between the Tomb and any possible threat from the crowd. The significance of 21 is that it symbolizes the highest military honor that can be bestowed – the 21-gun salute.
Arlington House is a must-see stop on the Arlington Cemetery tour. The views of the Potomac and Washington DC are breathtaking. This was the home of Robert E. Lee and Mary Anna Custis for over 30 years until he turned down the job to be the commander of the Union forces. Not the best career move! There is a lot of history in this house. On June 30, 1831, Lt. Robert E. Lee and Mary Custis were married in the Family Parlor. Lee proposed to Mary Custis in the Family Dining Room. Lee often gathered roses, placing one at the plate of each woman present for breakfast.
The Girls’ Dressing Room connects to the girls’ bed-chamber. It also served as a playroom. Annie, Agnes, and Mildred shared the Girls’ Chamber. The Boys’ Chamber belonged to Robert Jr., Custis, and William Henry Fitzhugh (Rooney). All three sons of Robert E. Lee served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, and all survived.
Iwo Jima Memorial
The Iwo Jima Memorial also known as the United States Marine Corps War Memorial is outside of Arlington National Cemetery. The iconic picture of five marines and a Navy corpsman raising a flag on Mt. Suribachi on the Japanese Island of Iwo Jima was made into a bronze sculpture.
To get to this memorial north of the cemetery is a bit of a hike. You can either go out the main gates and follow the signs walking along the path surrounding the cemetery. Or you can leave the cemetery through a side gate and walk to Netherlands Carillon (good view of Washington DC) and then to the north the Iwo Jima Memorial. While I was visiting this memorial, I was able to see marines doing drills around the statue. Definitely, an impressive sight to be sure.