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U.S.A.: Arlington National Cemetery

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Arlington National Cemetery | U.S.A. | Americas

[Visited: March 2011]

When I walked along the Potomac River, from the Tidal Basin to the north-east, I had great views across the wide river. In a distance, the skyline of Arlington itself, while in front of that, a big green space on a hill which I knew to be Arlington National Cemetery. When I was close to Lincoln Memorial at the end of the Washington Mall, I turned left and crossed the Arlington Memorial Bridge into Virginia. On either side of the bridge, golden statues donated by Italy marked a stately entrance of the most important military cemetery of the country. Here, veterans, war heroes, and generals, but also nurses and chaplains, victims of terrorist attacks, and former Presidents are all interred. After the joyous atmosphere across the Potomac where people were enjoying the springtime weather, there was a different feel to Arlington Cemetery; a solemn silence even among groups of young students walking up the hill with yellow roses. When you walk up the cemetery from the entrance, you are directly surrounded by fields full with row upon row of marble tombstones on all sides, and the effect is immediate. There is no shouting, no running; instead, people of all sorts walking with dignity, and talking only with a hushed voice.

Picture of Arlington National Cemetery (U.S.A.): Man and tree on the terrace at the grave of John F. Kennedy

A clear map you can obtain at the entrance comes in handy for the visitor to navigate the terrains of Arlington National Cemetery and to find the main monuments of the cemetery. I first headed to the gravesite of John F. Kennedy. Walking uphill past magnificent magnolia trees which contrasted beautifully with the blue skies, it was easy to spot the site as a small crowd was already there. On one side of the terrace, in a semi circle, some of the quotes of the famous president killed in 1963, with great views over Washington DC; on the other, four black slate grave markers, two big and two small, marking the last resting places of JFK, his wife Jacqueline Onassis, and two of their children who died prematurely. An impressive place, where the air felt thick with admiration and respect. Close by: a simple white cross in a large field of green grass marking the grave of Robert Kennedy.

Picture of Arlington National Cemetery (U.S.A.): Well-organized rows of tombstones at Arlington National Cemetery

From here, I continued walking uphill, to reach a cairn constructed from 270 Scottish stones, to commemorate the victims of the Lockerbie terrorist attack in 1988. Reading the accounts of that event sends chills to your spine; the simple cairn is a powerful monument for those who died. Passing hundreds of other graves, some ornate decorations, most as simple as the other white marble stones I had seen before, I reached the central area of Arlington National Cemetery, where the Memorial Amphitheatre can be found. A little to the west, I found a mast of a ship commemorating those who died at the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana in 1898 - which until today remains an unsolved mystery. Close to the mast: small memorial stones for US marines who died in an attempt to free the hostages in Iran in 1980, and for the crew who perished in the two Space Shuttle accidents. Among the many memorials for war veterans and heroes, the graves for soldiers who fought in the big wars of the 20th century, it is the monuments for the events that we all remember that make a walk in Arlington feel like a walk through US history. What impressed me most, beside the dignity of the monuments, was the fact that Arlington appeared very well kept - which shows a deep respect for their history.

Picture of Arlington National Cemetery (U.S.A.): At the entrance of Arlington with Arlington House on top of the hill
Picture of Arlington National Cemetery (U.S.A.): Space Shuttle Colombia disappeared in 2003, killing these 7 crew
Picture of Arlington National Cemetery (U.S.A.): Memorial cairn for the lost lives of the Lockerbie terrorist attack on PanAm flight 103 in 1988
Picture of Arlington National Cemetery (U.S.A.): The 266 crew who perished in the explosion of the USS Maine in Cuba in 1898
Picture of Arlington National Cemetery (U.S.A.): One of the many plaques at Arlington for World War II
Picture of Arlington National Cemetery (U.S.A.): Crew of the Challenger Space Shuttle that exploded in 1986
Picture of Arlington National Cemetery (U.S.A.): Plaque commemorating the US marines who died in an effort to liberate hostages in Iran in 1980
Picture of Arlington National Cemetery (U.S.A.): Arlington House and American flag with tomb of Robert Kennedy in the foreground
Picture of Arlington National Cemetery (U.S.A.): Tree with tombstones at Arlington
Picture of Arlington National Cemetery (U.S.A.): White tombstones everywhere at the cemetery
Picture of Arlington National Cemetery (U.S.A.): One of the many bends in a street of Arlington National Cemetery
Picture of Arlington National Cemetery (U.S.A.): The graves of John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Onassis with eternal flame at Arlington
Picture of Arlington National Cemetery (U.S.A.): Hill covered by tombstones

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