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A National Shrine Called Arlington : No Facet of American History Overlooked in Cemetery

Charles Hillinger's America

November 11, 1987|CHARLES HILLINGER | Times Staff Writer

ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, Va. — This burial place of history and heroes, of men and women who fought in all of America's wars, will be crowded this Veterans Day with those who come to honor the more than 210,000 interred here.

At 11 a.m. at this national shrine overlooking the Potomac River and the nation's Capitol, outgoing Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger is scheduled to place the traditional Veterans Day presidential wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Immediately after, the annual National Veterans Memorial Service, sponsored by the Veterans Administration, takes place at the cemetery's Memorial Amphitheatre.

A few of those making a Veterans Day pilgrimage will be men in their late 80s, 90s, and perhaps one or more older than 100. They will trudge up a steep hill to pay homage to General of the Armies and Pulitzer Prize-winning author John J. (Black Jack) Pershing.

These men, who served under Pershing during World War I, will gather as they do each Veterans Day at the simple, white Vermont marble, "government issue" 3-foot headstone that marks his grave.

Graves of men and women who sacrificed their lives in the service of their country--and burial sites of veterans who served in wars of this country--will be visited today by relatives and friends.

Everywhere you look across the lush, green rolling hills of the 612-acre national cemetery are rows of white headstones. Interspersed among the glistening marble markers are monuments and memorials.

There is no facet of American history overlooked in this hallowed graveyard. Here rests the remains of those who served in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican and Civil wars, the Indian campaigns, the Spanish-American War, the Philippine Insurrection, World Wars I and II, and the Korean and Vietnam wars.

Here are the graves of two Presidents, William Howard Taft and John Fitzgerald Kennedy, of Supreme Court Justices, members of Congress and Cabinet and other prominent Americans.

Headstones with gold lettering mark the final resting place of more than 300 Medal of Honor recipients.

One section of the cemetery holds the graves of more than 3,800 former slaves with headstones designated civilian or citizen.

A massive sarcophagus contains the remains of 2,111 unknowns of the Civil War, scattered bones collected from battlefields of Union and Confederate soldiers. A total of 4,725 unknowns from America's wars are buried at the cemetery.

One grave, in a section set aside for Union soldiers, has a pointed headstone signifying a Confederate burial. The unknown soldier was found wearing a Confederate jacket and Union trousers.

The grave of Philip Kearny who lost his left arm in the Mexican War and his life in the Civil War is marked with a life-size statue of the general on his horse.

Confederate Monument

On June 14, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson dedicated the 32-foot-tall Confederate Monument, a gift from the United Daughters of the Confederacy, crowned with a larger-than-life statue of a woman holding a laurel wreath and facing the South.

When the monument was dedicated, Union and Confederate veterans placed wreaths on graves of their former enemies symbolizing reconciliation.

The towering mast of the battleship Maine is here, raised from Havana harbor after the ship was sunk, a prelude to the Spanish-American War. In the shadows of the mast are headstones for the graves of 229 men who went down with the ship.

"Remember the Maine!" The slogan of so long ago is etched on the memorial.

Chaplains' Hill has graves for 134 chaplains of various faiths killed in five wars. Chaplains' Monument on the hill commemorates 23 who lost their lives in World War I. One of the chaplains is Maj. Charles J. Watters, killed during an assault on Hill 875 near Dak To in Vietnam.

The snow-white statue of a nurse stands on a hill above the graves of hundreds of nurses who have served in the Armed Forces. Nearby, are 2,700 cenotaphs in memory of airmen and sailors whose bodies have never been found.

Also, there are the Rough Riders Monument, a Seabees Memorial and the Pyramid Memorial to members of the Coast Guard killed at sea. Nine astronauts are buried in Arlington National Cemetery, and there is a Challenger memorial with busts of those aboard the ill-fated space shuttle mission.

A memorial to the Screaming Eagles, the 101st Army Airborne Division, commemorates the 248 soldiers killed in the plane crash at Gander, Newfoundland, in December, 1985.

Near the memorial to the 161 servicemen who were killed in the Marine barracks Oct. 23, 1983, near the Beirut International Airport, is the grave of seaman Robert Stethem, killed by terrorists during the TWA hijacking June 15, 1985, and a cedar tree--a living memorial to all victims of terrorism throughout the world.

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