Saturday, June 13, 2009

Arlington National Cemetery

The second half of Day Two brought us to Arlington National Cemetery, final resting place to over 320,000 servicemen either in the military or connected to the US Government. Who gets buried at Arlington, you may ask? You can be buried there if you were killed in action, received a Purple Heart (wounded in action), were a POW, have over 20 years of service in the military, or have some other kind of congressional exception (several Supreme Court Justices, as well as the crews of the space shuttle Discover and Challenger, are buried there, for example). The cemetery is absolutely enormous...almost as big as all of downtown D.C. It's rather disconcerting to see the tremendous price that was paid in human life for the maintaining our way of life. Below is a sampling of the sea of gravestones at Arlington.

This is called the Tomb of the Unknowns. Erected in the 1940s, this tomb commemorates all the soldiers who died yet could not be identified--or were "known to God alone." A soldier guards the tomb 24/7. He walks back and forth with the utmost precision--21 steps one way, a pause for 21 seconds, and 21 steps the other way. Why 21? Add the numerals 1776, and that's what you get. Interestingly, that's also why presidents get a 21 gun salute at their funeral. The guard changes every hour. We had the chance to see this elaborate ceremony, complete with complete inspection of the soldier going off duty and a solemn command for the audience to stand out of respect and remain silent at the site.

Here's the grave site of JFK. Above his tombstone is the eternal flame, where the words "with history as the final judge of our deeds" are quoted in his inaugural address. The grave of JFK is probably the second most popular site behind the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Yeah, Arlington was solemn, but we found some time for smiles to lighten up the mood.

We even found time to put our baby on a canon from the USS Maine, a ship that was sunk to ignite the Spanish American War. Don't worry, grandmas. I'm hiding behind the canon to make sure she doesn't fall.
Thoughts on Arlington: Societies and nations need ways of maintaining themselves. They do this through honoring sacrifice. And the greatest honor goes to the greatest sacrifice, hence Arlington. I had to ask myself, while walking out, how do we in the church honor sacrifice? Do we have days that honor the missionaries who brought the gospel to the English-speaking world centuries ago? Or do we honor pastors for their sacrifice? When we think of church history and the great heroes there enshrined, far too many Protestants fear that giving them due respect will lead to statue-worship and popery (not potpourri). Lesson: how you honor your heroes will determine what your people will respect and what kind of legacy you will leave for the next generation.

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