Arlington Cemetery stands as a history of freedom

Published 9:27 am Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Though I’ve had the privilege of touring Arlington National Cemetery on several occasions, I still feel the somberness of these hallowed grounds when I walk through the towering iron gates.

As far as the eye can see, rows and rows of small headstones stand, as if at attention, across the landscape of rolling hills.  Every American should have the opportunity to see this 1,100-acre national shrine to those who served and died for the cause of freedom.  It’s located in Virginia across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.

More than 260,000 men and women are buried at Arlington – some famous like Presidents John F. Kennedy and William Howard Taft, five-star generals such as Omar Bradley, and countless other soldiers, thousands of them anonymous.

On Memorial Day weekend, a small American flag is placed in the grass in front of each headstone as a red, white and blue salute to each individual laid to rest there. According to tour guides an average of 27 funerals are held every workday – “final farewells to fallen heroes from the fronts of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as to veterans of World War II, the Korean conflict, Vietnam and the Cold War and their family members.”

A visit to Arlington would not be complete without paying one’s respects at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  The marble monument sits on the crest of a hill next to the Memorial Amphitheater.  This sacred site was dedicated on Armistice Day, November 11, 1921, when the first Unknown Soldier, who died during World War I, was interred.

Later, in 1931, a 50-ton piece of marble was sculpted into the capstone we see today.  On its front, three figures are carved representing Peace, Victory, and Valor, along with the phrase, “Here Rests In Honored Glory An American Soldier Known But To God.”

In 1958, an unknown soldier from both the Korean War and World War II were buried there.  The body of a soldier killed in Vietnam was entombed during a ceremony in 1984; however, due to advances in medical research the body was identified by DNA and returned to his family.  The crypt for the Vietnam War Unknown remains empty.

Since 1948, an honor guard from the 3rd U.S. Infantry has maintained a 24-hour vigil with utmost precision and respect. The lone soldier on duty walks back and forth on a 63 foot black mat in front of the Tomb. He takes 21 steps across the mat, turns and faces the tomb for 21 seconds, representing the highest military honor – a 21-gun salute.

The public can watch this sentry and the changing of the guard ceremony, which occurs every half hour to hour, depending on the time of year – in all kinds of weather.  The ceremony reminds me of Americans in every generation who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve our freedom.

A visit to Arlington brings to mind the words of Jesus, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life” (John 15:13).  And, it always reminds me of Jesus’ Ultimate Sacrifice to forever free mankind from sin.


Jan White is an award-winning religion columnist.  Her email address is