The Oxford English Dictionary defines Monument as “A statue, building, or other structure erected to commemorate a notable person or event”.
Arlington National Cemetery itself is such a monument: Memorial Drive extending across the Potomac and connecting Arlington House, the former home of a Confederate general, with the Lincoln Memorial at the opposite end, symbolizing the immutable bond between North and South.
Approach Arlington at night, and the eternal flame marking the grave of JFK can be seen on the hillside, like some faraway beacon of light.
A list of memorials at Arlington reads like a history of the nation itself. The Argonne Cross commemorates the honored dead of the “War to end all Wars” in 1917-1918, some 2,100 of whom were re-interred in Section 18, after the war. The Battle of the Bulge memorial reads, “To World War II American Soldiers who fought in the Battle of the Bulge – The greatest Land Battle in the history of the United States Army”. The Beirut Barracks Memorial honors 241 American service members killed in the October 23, 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon.
On Chaplain Hill stands a row of four memorials, bearing the names of Chaplains who laid down their lives in four wars. The Cenotaph, (“an empty tomb or a monument erected in honour of a person or group of people whose remains are elsewhere”), bears this inscription: “Greater Love Hath No Man Than This, That A Man Lay Down His Life For His Friends.” Written there are the names of the only two chaplains ever awarded the Medal of Honor: Major Charles Joseph Watters (January 17, 1927 – November 19, 1967), killed in Vietnam while rendering aid to fallen comrades, and Captain Emil Joseph Kapaun (April 20, 1916 – May 23, 1951), the “Shepherd in Combat Boots” who remains to this day in some unmarked North Korean grave site.
I have barely scratched the Cs. Altogether, there are 28 major and 142 minor Memorials and monuments at Arlington National Cemetery, to say nothing of the 250,000 plus military grave sites stretching across the landscape. Each of them is dedicated to a person, place or event which has earned the right to be remembered.
It has long seemed to this writer that, irrespective of one’s political persuasion, an informed and presumably voting citizen of a Free Republic cannot cast an informed vote, cannot know where he wants his country to go, without an understanding of where it has been.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to visit Arlington National Cemetery recently, I highly recommend the trip. Leave yourself plenty of time to take it all in. It would be hard to find more heritage, tradition and history, in any other single place.
Feature image, top of page: Air Force Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. H/T to AF.MIL, the official website of the United States Air force