Sunday, November 18, 2012

Veteran's Day Tour

Happy late Veteran's Day!
Me and my bike in front of the USMC Iwo Jima Memorial
I wanted to write this post right after Veteran's day but because Congress was back in session the week was busier than I thought it would be. 

Let me start by saying I love Veteran's Day. It is a beautiful day set aside to honor and thank those who have served our country by fighting for and protecting our rights and freedoms. That being said I was really excited to be in our nation's capitol for this special day. 

I started searching what was going on DC for Veteran's Day more than a month ago. I was really disappointed to find out that DC does not have a Veteran's Day parade. Even the small town I grew up in has a Veteran's Day parade, and it has always been one of my favorite parts of growing up in a small town. The local National Guard always rolled out a tank or two and a Hummer, and helicopter. It was something my brother and I looked forward to every year and it gave our parents the opportunity to help us understand the sacrifice all of those in our military have made and how it is important and the least we can do to thank them. 

So I still wanted this to be a special day and since DC does not have a parade I decided to do my own little Veteran's Day tour. Thankfully it was a great sunny day for a bike ride. I started out riding down the National Mall, past the Lincoln Memorial, and over the Potomac River. It was a great view of the Potomac and you could even see the National Cathedral. 
Potomac River with National Cathedral in the distance
After crossing the Potomac into Virginia, I headed over to Arlington National Cemetery. 

A beautiful fall day at Arlington National Cemetery

If you have never been before this is a must see if you are in DC. If you have been before, then I'm sure I do not need to convince you to return. 

Although I have been before, I am always shocked by how many of the white headstones there are. If you are standing in the middle of the cemetery and look out at the rows and rows of headstones, it looks like they go on and on and never end. The view generates a wide variety of emotions: sadness, pride, nostalgia, patriotism mixed with a sense of awe at the beauty of it all.  
Arlington National Cemetery

After getting there and getting my bearings, I checked my watch and it was a few minutes after the hour meaning I had about 45 minutes to explore before the next changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In the fall, winter and spring the guard changes every hour on the hour and in the summer it changes on every hour and half hour. 

While I was waiting for the next changing of the guard, I went to the gravesite of President John F. Kennedy. JFK's gravesite sits just below Arlington House and has a beautiful view of the cemetery and the Washington Monument and the US Capitol. 

The gravesite of JFK, his wife, their still born daughter and son who died 15 weeks before JFK. 

Looking out from the gravesite there is part of JFK's famous 1961 inaugural address ("Ask not what your country can do for you- ask what you can do for your country") carved into the granite. It is such a beautiful and eloquent speech and is more than appropriate for not only JFK's gravesite, but also for the grave sites of so many who gave all that they could for their country, they gave their lives. 

President Kennedy Gravesite
View of DC from JFK Gravesite
Not far away from JFK's gravesite is Robert F. Kennedy's gravesite. In the picture below you can see a little bit of Arlington House at the top of the hill. I didn't make it up there on this trip but maybe next time I will. 

Robert F. Kennedy's Gravesite
One reason I posted this picture is because I was hoping someone out there could help me solve a mystery. If you notice on and around the grave people have placed different coins. I tried googling it but could not find what this signified. I read that leaving coins on military headstones is meant to send a message to the family with each denomination meaning something different. Leaving a penny simply means that you were there and visited, a nickel means you trained in bootcamp together, a dime means that you served with the deceased in some capacity, and a quarter means that you were with the person when they died. Robert F. Kennedy did serve in the military but because there are so many quarters and Kennedy did not die in military service I did not know if there was any other significance. 

After visiting the Kennedy grave sites I started making my way to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I wanted to get there early so that I could get a good seat. 

I love the beauty and honor of the ceremony. I remember after my last visit I did a good bit of research on the Tomb Guards. I think I will save it for another post but if you would like to do some research on your own before then click here or here.

Unfortunately, for the actual Changing of the Guard I decided to take a video and was planing on posting clips of it but there was a major glitch in that plan. My phone froze up because it ran out of memory while recording it so it only saved the first few minutes of the ceremony and when I went to transfer what I had from my phone to iPhoto on my laptop it refuses to transfer. So if you would like to view the ceremony from the comfort of your own computer click here.

Directly behind where you stand to view the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a small museum with a variety of medals and different things about the 3rd Infantry and the Old Guard (the division of soldiers that tomb guards are chosen from as well as the burial details at Arlington). I have been to it before but it is closed on Mondays so I was unable to visit on this trip. However, there was a section open that I had never seen before. If you walk around towards the amphitheater, like you are going to the restroom, you will see the door where the Tomb Guards enter and exit. Inside the door is a case with a mannequin dressed in a Tomb Guard's uniform so you can see it up close and a case with different medals, flags, and other awards. All of these have some relation to the Tomb Guards. Below is a picture of the medals of a Tomb Guard who was killed in Vietnam. This display further exemplifies what type men the guards are and the sacrifice they are willing to make for our country. 

There are lots of memorials and things to see at Arlington National Cemetery. If you know someone who is buried there you can look up where the grave is before you go or at the visitor's center. For a list of all of the different memorials click here.

Unfortunately, it looked like it was about to rain so I was not able to see many because I was on my bike I wanted to get back into DC and a little closer to home if it did rain. I was able to see a few on my way out though. 

Memorials to those who died in the Challenger Space Shuttle, the Iran Rescue Mission of 1980,
and the Columbia Space Shuttle. 
USS Maine Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery
Mast of the USS Maine which was destroyed in Havana, Cuba in 1898. 
Finally when leaving the cemetery I stopped by what I think is one of the most iconic memorials in the world but especially in DC, the USMC Iwo Jima Memorial. It is not actually in Arlington Cemetery but just outside of it. There is a walking/biking path around to it or you can drive (it is about a mile walk/ride so if you are in a hurry you may just want to drive). 

There is also a great view of the city at the memorial. Below is one of my favorite photos I've taken while in DC. 

Iwo Jima Memorial DC

I wish I would have taken a picture of the quote on the side but didn't think about it at the time. It reads, "Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue." I think that is the perfect quote for Veteran's Day. It is something we too often forget and sometimes need to be reminded of that without the valor of those who serve and have given their lives for our country we would be unable to enjoy the freedoms and the life we do today. 

1 comment:

  1. Your great grandfather, Cole Wages, would be soooo proud of you! He served in the Pacific in the US Navy during WW II and made sure that we toured military sights on all of our vacations! Thank you for honoring him and all of our great veterans!