Arlington National Cemetery: Just Outside of Washington D.C.

by Howard Clemens

Student travel groups headed to the Washington D.C. area will want to schedule some time on their itinerary for a visit to Arlington National Cemetery. Arlington is a place of remembrance and loss. It is also a monument to the sacrifices made to keep U.S. democracy sound and our nation properly defended. A number of students have viewed Arlington National Cemetery on television, in the movies, and on news programs but there is nothing as awe inspiring as a visit to the actual site itself.

Famous Americans and Heroes Interred at Arlington

Arlington National Cemetery has been a National Cemetery since 1864. Many famous Americans are buried at Arlington National Cemetery, including John F. Kennedy. War heroes who fought for freedom and the birth of a new nation are interred at Arlington, from the Revolutionary War to the present day war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A Brief History of Arlington House
A student trip to Arlington House is needed to understand the full scope and impact the Civil War had upon Arlington and elsewhere in the nation. The history of Arlington National Cemetery is richly woven into the memorable events in world and domestic politics, and social life. The original owner of Arlington House, was George Washington Parke Custis, the adopted son of George Washington. Washington’s wife, Martha, was widowed when they met and had children by a previous marriage. Custis inherited the property at the age of 2, and when he became an adult he commissioned George Hadfield, the English architect who designed the Capitol Building in Washington D.C., to design a 19th Century Greek revival mansion. Arlington House stands on the hill today – overlooking over 250,0000 gravesites.

After Custis died, his only daughter, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, married Robert E. Lee. At the conclusion of the Civil War, Union troops took up positions around Arlington House, and the property was confiscated for tax purposes as well as obvious political reasons. Lee always lamented the loss of Arlington House and felt personally responsible for it. After Lee’s death, George Washington Custis Lee reclaimed ownership of Arlington House because he said it was illegally confiscated. Eventually it was sold to the government for $150,000 and was turned into public property, where it first served as a freedman’s village and military base and later as a national cemetery.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is guarded everyday by specially trained military personnel who are dressed in their best regalia and remain solemn, focused, and silent. An average of 27 funeral processions occur each day at the cemetery. Much of the ceremonial activities, especially by heads of state, are centered around the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Students may be able to witness a wreath laying ceremony in several ways. For example, if they visit Arlington around the time of a holiday such as Memorial Day or when a head of state is visiting they may witness a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. On any given day there are many other wreath laying ceremonies throughout Arlington National Cemetery they may see. The best way to ensure student travel groups participate in a wreath laying ceremony is to schedule one on the itinerary.

A student travel professional from the Educational Travel Consultants staff will be happy to incorporate a wreath laying ceremony into a student trip to Arlington National Cemetery. An Educational Travel professional will create a formal request letter that goes to the appropriate Arlington personnel for a specific timed wreath laying ceremony for your school. An Educational Travel Consultant will order the wreath with the school colors and have it delivered specifically to the Tomb site at Arlington.

Social Studies Students
Many eras of American history and government are touched upon in Arlington National Cemetery. Educators can easily complement a curriculum where certain periods in American history are being studied by focusing in on specific eras during Arlington National Cemetery’s history. Clearly the Civil War era is a period that can be easily studied in conjunction with a student trip to Arlington. Many heroes from Revolutionary Times are also interred at Arlington, as well as political figures, authors, and even freed slaves. Educators can handpick a variety of topics appropriate to their curriculum by visiting the history page of Arlington National Cemetery’s website.

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