Feminist, Fictionista, Foodie, Francophile

Saturday, May 29, 2010

It's not just about the sales

This is Memorial Day weekend and as usual, CNN is running lots of stories about the men and women who have fallen n the service of our country. This video of soldiers decorating the graves at Arlington with small American flags--as is done several times a year--really got to me.

The video shows what a beautiful and peaceful place Arlington Cemetery is. It overlooks the Potomac. It is covered in green. Trees grow among the graves. When I was little, people could picnic there and ride bikes along its broad boulevards. That was before the Viet Nam war started filling up the "Garden of Stone" and forced the opening of new sections to accommodate the newly dead.

Now the cemetery is stressed not only by the casualties of Iraq and Afghanistan (they're buried in "Section 60") but also by the deaths of World War II veterans who are now in their ninth decade. It won't be long efore burial in Arlington, the nation's most famous military cemetery, will be a matter of "by invitation only."

John F. Kennedy is buried in Arlington Cemetery, where an eternal flame flickers in his memory. Nearby is the grave of Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, the premature son born to the Kennedys and rarely mentioned. Also nearby is the grave of the stillborn Kennedy girl who never even had a name and whose existence is still a secret to all but the most avid Kennedy-philes.

Robert Kennedy is buried there too; as is Ted Kennedy and surprisingly, perhaps, so is Jacqueline Onassis. The Kennedys were known for their compound in New England, in Arlington they have claimed their own corner of national real estate. The area is one of the "must-see" spots on a tour of the cemetery, along with the statue that replicates the famous photo of the flag-raising over Iwo Jima, the Tomb of the Unknowns (Formerly the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) and Custis-Lee Mansion, where the cemetery began during the Civil War when Union soldiers buried their dead in what had been the front yard of a gracious Southern mansion.

There is a cairn of 270 stones to commemorate the 270 souls aboard the plane that exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland. There are memorials to the Challenger and Columbus space shuttle crews. Many famous military men and women are buried there, as you might expect, but so are Dashiell Hammett,writer Charles Willeford and actor Lee Marvin. Pierre Charles L'Enfant, the French engineer who designed the city of Washington DC, is also there along with a mission's worth of astronauts, including Gus Grissom and Roger Chaffee.

The second most-visited grave (after JFK) is that of Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier in WWII. (Define irony: Murphy was killed in a plane crash on Memorial Day weekend nearly 40 years ago.)

Here's a sobering fact: More than 100 graveside ceremonies are conducted each week at Arlington. Each week. There are more than 300,000 people buried there already, including my parents. They're just up the hill from the Kennedy memorial.