National Geographic : 1953 Jan
The National Geographic Magazine of the Pentagon and airport is a neighboring reservation of intense interest to every patri otic American-Arlington National Cemetery, one of the great shrines of the Nation.* Resting Place of Nation's Heroes In the Pentagon military strategy is planned, and from the airport our commanders fly to the ends of the earth. But in the serene peace and beauty of near-by Arlington lie many of our honored dead-heroes of all our wars. Total burials exceed 77,000, and average eleven a day, with none on Sundays or holi days. Generally, anyone connected with the armed services, during war or peace, dying in the service or having been honorably dis charged, is entitled to burial without charge. The rolling, hilly terrain, the winding drives, the 22,000 carefully tended trees, the beautiful landscaping, and the ever-changing vistas of Washington, especially of the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial-all combine to make of the cemetery a place of rare and haunting beauty. I, for one, am most drawn to it on a brisk, clear October afternoon. Unfortunately, most of the thousands who visit Arlington follow only one or two of the drives, but a leisurely tour of the entire grounds is a fine investment. The point of greatest interest is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, visited by about 4,000 people a day. There are 4,720 unknown soldiers in Arlington, but one was selected as a focus for the Nation's gratitude to all its war dead. The tomb, a great block of marble, is strik ing in its simplicity. It is guarded by march ing soldiers 24 hours a day. The new guard takes over from the old every hour in a little ceremony beside the tomb, with the corporal of the guard barking commands. "Daddy," exclaimed a 3-year-old after his first visit to Arlington, "I saw the unknown soldier walking up and down!" Detail Regarded as Honor Only under exceptional circumstances may a guard speak or otherwise disturb his silent, poker-faced bearing. If, for instance, he sees youngsters swinging on the ornamental chains around the tomb, he may warn them, but first he must bring his rifle from right or left shoulder to port. The rifle is always carried on the shoulder away from the tomb. I was there once when the guard did have to speak to a child: the effect was startling, as if an automaton had come to life. Visitors sometimes wonder if guarding the tomb in bad weather or at a time like Christ mas is not a peculiarly lonely occupation. Guards say they consider it an honor at any time. Company A, Third Infantry Regiment, stationed at adjoining Fort Myer, supplies men for the detail. Back of the tomb is the great open-air marble Amphitheater, where Memorial Day and Armistice Day are observed, usually with the President in attendance (page 10). The laying of wreaths on the tomb by the President, and by kings, queens, heads of state, ambassadors, and organizations of every kind has become a national and international cus tom. Appointments are sometimes made a year in advance. The number of heroes buried in Arlington is so great that even to indicate the diversity of their achievements is almost impossible. There are the explorers Adm. Robert E. Peary and Adm. Charles Wilkes; medical heroes Maj. Walter Reed, Gen. William C. Gorgas, and Maj. Jonathan Letterman; noted Indian fighters and famous airmen. On a little eminence, Pershing Hill, are the graves of General of the Armies John J. Per shing and General of the Air Force H. H. Arnold, air commander in World War II, both of whom served as trustees of the National Geographic Society. Between them Gen. Walton H. Walker, killed in a jeep accident in Korea, was buried in January, 1951. Grave of Father of Baseball There are the graves of Gen. Abner Double day, acclaimed as the father of baseball, who aimed the first shot fired by Fort Sumter in reply to the Confederate bombardment in the Civil War; of Gen. Phil Sheridan; of Maj. Pierre Charles L'Enfant, who planned the city of Washington (pages 4-5). Here lie more than 2,000 unknown dead from Bull Run; 229 men who lost their lives in the explosion of the battleship Maine in Habana Harbor, with the mast of the ship standing guard over the grave. Here also is the rarely visited grave of Private William Christman, the first burial to take place in Arlington, May 13, 1864. Any visitor to Arlington is likely to witness a military funeral. These are impressive occa sions, with flag-draped caisson, the caparisoned and riderless horse (when the deceased was of the rank of general or had been in the cavalry), the slowly marching troops, and the bugle sounding taps at the grave. In November, 1950, I was privileged to attend the unveiling of a life-size, bronze equestrian statue of British Field Marshal Sir John Dill, who served on the Combined * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "Shrines of Each Patriot's Devotion," by Frederick G. Vosburgh, January, 1949, and "Fame's Eternal Camp ing Ground," by Enoch A. Chase, November, 1928.