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Arlington: America’s memory

The famous military cemetery of Arlington lies among the green hills of Virginia, just outside Washington D.C. With its endless rows of white tombstones and many war monuments, this is an impressive and poignant place to visit. In addition to soldiers, famous American politicians including President John F. Kennedy have also been laid to rest here.

Since 1868, America has remembered its war heroes at this beautiful location near Washington, on the other side of the Potomac River. A large part of this 253-hectare area once belonged to the plantation of General Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Confederate forces in the American Civil War. From the hilltop cemetery you can appreciate the sweeping views of the capital. In the distance, the dome of the United States Capitol and the obelisk of the Washington Monument rise above the city.

Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery

Washington

The eternal flame at the tomb of JFK

John and Robert Kennedy

Arlington National Cemetery has more than 350,000 graves, and funerals still take place here every day. The most famous tombs are those of John and Jackie Kennedy, who are buried next to 2 of their children. An eternal flame burns in tribute to the assassinated president. His brother, Robert Kennedy, who was also assassinated, is buried here as well. Another much visited Arlington grave is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which was instituted after World War I. Unknown victims of World War II and the Korean and Vietnam Wars were also buried here later. Close to the much photographed monument is the marble amphitheatre where the national remembrance ceremonies take place.

Nurses and astronauts

There are 70 sections within the cemetery, dedicated to different wars or to soldiers with specific backgrounds. There are separate sections for female soldiers and army nurses. There is also a section where 4,000 slaves have been buried. Many of the hundreds of visitors a day come for section 60: this is where since 2001, the victims of the war against terrorism have been buried, including soldiers who were killed in Iraq or Afghanistan.


Many gravestones mention military decorations, such as the Medal of Honour, which are awarded to those soldiers who have shown exceptional courage. There are also several monuments at the cemetery that recall poignant moments in American history, such as a commemorative plaque for the astronauts who perished in the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986. There is also a large stone for the victims of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, which is located close to Arlington.

Endless rows of white headstones
Changing of the Guard Ceremony

Changing of the guard

Since 1948, the 3rd Infantry Regiment has guarded the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Visitors to the cemetery may attend the ceremonial changing of the guard. Depending on the season, this is done at every half hour or every hour. A 'relief' commander inspects the weapons of the new guard and relieves the old guard from its duty. The 3 soldiers then pay solemn homage to the Unknown Soldier, before the new guard assumes position.

Photo credits

  • Changing of the Guard Ceremony: MISHELLA, Shutterstock