Now that Rome's getting older, my husband and I decided to teach him why we celebrate different holidays throughout the year. Because we're celebrating Memorial Day this weekend, we took a short trip to Arlington National Cemetery to pay our respects to the graves of many of our nation's heroes who find their final resting place at the sanctuary. From our place, the drive is about half an hour and we took the scenic route by driving down George Washington Parkway so we can see the view of the Potomac River on the way there. Parking at the cemetery is pretty much non-existent, like all places around D.C., so we headed the back way through Fort Meyer Army base to park at the installation. What's nice about that perk is that there's tons of parking and it's adjacent to the cemetery. Also, it's not too far from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, but some distance from the Visitor's Center. So, in case you want to find a specific grave, you can look online at their website to find the location, instead of walking all the way to the center to wait in line behind others who are doing the same.
On our first visit to Arlington, we didn't walk all the way to President John F. Kennedy's grave, so I told Rome and my husband that we'd make the trek today, despite the crowds and cooler-than-average weather. The crowds weren't too bad, but it was nearly impossible to see the changing of the guards ceremony and there was a large biker gathering at one of the sections. President Kennedy's grave sits atop a grassy hill overlooking a lovely site of Washington D.C. with the Washington monument clearly visible in the backdrop. His brothers, Ted and Robert, are buried nearby, but we didn't have time to look for their graves. Rome had asked who was "sleeping under the tombstone with the fire," and I told him that one of our nation's most beloved presidents lies there with his wife and 2 infant children who died young (one was a stillbirth). Rome concluded that he was very important and we told him that he was and he would learn more about him later.
President Kennedy's grave is surprisingly very simple, as well as the Eternal Flame that sits atop of the grave markers. However, its simplicity and design fits well with the grave's architecture. On the other side of the grave, a curved marble (or granite) stone surrounds it with a portion of Kennedy's speech during his inauguration in 1961. From where we parked, President Kennedy's grave site is a little bit of a walk and curves uphill, but it's not that bad of a hike if you've got proper walking shoes.
Because it's Memorial Day weekend, the thousands of graves are decorated with small American flags that were placed by The Old Guard, which is the special Army unit in charge of the ceremonies and maintenance of the graves. Each year, about 1,300 soldiers from the unit walk among the 360,000 tombstones placing flags into the ground using their boots as measurement (30 cm from the headstone). When you consider the sheer size of the cemetery, I can understand why the commanding officer uses that many soldiers to place the flags during the Memorial Day weekend. The soldiers place a flag on the grave and salute it, giving them proper honors. One of my husband's former soldiers is buried at Arlington National Cemetery and we were able to pay a visit to his grave and pay our respects.
So even though Memorial Day weekend is a weekend for a family getaway, BBQs, picnics, trips to the beach, parades, and an extra day off work (in some cases, 2), it's also a good time to reflect on why we have a national day of remembrance to celebrate. As a military family, we've had friends and known people who have passed away from conflicts in war, so this weekend is a poignant reminder that we shouldn't always take our freedom and liberty for granted. It's also a great weekend to show Rome where some of our heroes lie and how to pay our respect to them.