Arlington National Cemetery is a military cemetery located on a piece of land, which was once under the ownership of the step grandson of George Washington, George Washington Parke Custis. Custis left the land to his daughter Mary Anna Randolph Custis in 1857 and it became their family home. During the Civil War, their family vacated the land, which was then used for various purposes. The grounds served as the headquarters for Federal troops and later as a haven for slaves seeking freedom. The first military burial in the cemetery was held on May 13, 1864.
The place is now the final resting place of about 400,000 military veterans, active duty service members, and their immediate families. Arlington National Cemetery is a place that you can include in your private tour Washington DC itinerary to gain the sense of sacrifice of men and women who served the country. Soldiers from World Wars I and II, the Civil War and Cold War, the Korean Conflict, and the fronts of Afghanistan and Iraq rest in this cemetery.
About 27 to 30 funerals are conducted in the cemetery every weekday. The place is open to public round the year and admission is free for the visitors who wish to tour the place to pay their respects to the soldiers. There are six hundred acres of ground that you can explore in your Arlington Cemetery tour.
What to See
The cemetery is the home of many historic sites of the country, which includes the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This tomb is a tribute to all the unidentified fallen soldiers who fought in First and Second World Wars as well as in Vietnam and Korea. The tomb is a large sarcophagus that is white in color, which is guarded round the clock by Tomb Guard sentinels from the third U.S. Infantry Regiment.
The Changing of the Guard is a somber and elaborate ceremony that is worth watching. In the ceremony, a sentinel takes over the guard duty from the previous one. It happens every hour in the months from October to March and every half hour from April to September.
You can find the gravesite of President John F. Kennedy in the Arlington National Cemetery. At his funeral that took place on Nov. 25, 1963, his wife Jacqueline and his brother, Robert Kennedy lit an eternal flame. On your tour of the cemetery, you will see that the flame remains alight. Two his children and his wife Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis are also buries near the grave of John F. Kennedy.
There is also the gravesites of President William Howard Taft, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the seven Space Shuttle Challenger astronauts, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, world champion boxer Joe Louis, and the Tuskegee Airmen in addition to the graves of the Kennedy family, at the Arlington National Cemetery.
The former residence of Robert E. Lee, the husband of Mary Anna Randolph Custis, sits on a hill overlooking the Arlington National Cemetery. This building is the Arlington House. The ground was originally built to be a memorial to George Washington and was taken over by the government in 1864. Over the years, the Arlington house was used as a home to sixty-three slaves, as a plantation estate, a military headquarters, a community for slaves, and as a national cemetery. The Arlington home is preserved and is open to daily public tours.
On Veterans Day and Memorial Day, numerous visitors attend the remembrance services that take place in the Memorial Amphitheater. These are special services and are often attended by the President or the Vice President of the country.
Reaching the Cemetery
The Metro is the easiest way to reach the Arlington National Cemetery. The Blue Line has a direct Arlington Cemetery stop. There are also Metrobus route stops at the cemetery site that is accessible by important roadways, which include the George Washington Parkway. You may ask your tour guide about the routes to the place or if you are on a private tour Washington DC package, your tour might accompany you to the place. You can start at the Welcome Center that provides a view of the site. You may also sign up for a bus tour at the Welcome Center.
The bus tour stops at different sites throughout the cemetery that is built into a hill. As, it is built into a hill, opting the shuttle can be a good idea, else you will have to walk a lot to explore the place completely.