I can’t think of Memorial Day without my family being up front and center. We were lucky, every single one of them (nearly two dozen) came home (at least in the most recent wars) — whether it was WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and any of the subsequent wars fought in the Gulf.
Great-Uncle Howard landed at Normandy — he was lucky and part of the second wave. His brother Builo came home and enrolled in high school to finish his senior year and graduate when he was 21. These stories are always close to me, as they are the stories I heard over and over growing up. They might not have liked what they had to do, but they went and did it. Never complaining. And yes, they knew how lucky they were to be able to come home when so many they served with were left behind.
My father-in-law is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. It’s a stark reminder every time we visit his grave, steps away from Section 60 where there are no admirals or generals, just the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
From the Tuskeegee Airmen graves we visit so my son knows their story and importance, to the extraordinary civilians who also gave their lives, including the 184 who died in the 9/11 attacks on the Pentagon and those onboard American Airlines Flight 77. Section 1 holds the Lockerbie Memorial Cairn dedicated to the victims of Pan Am Flight 103. We pay our respects at Section 46 where the comingled remains of the Space Shuttle Challenger is memorialized and I relive the shock and horror of my childhood, watching the explosion on the television in my classroom at Carver Middle School. I have wept at the grave of Medgar Evers and pray that one day, civil rights for everyone will exist and we will all be equals in the eyes of our beholders.
Instead of a cookout and celebration, I’ll dust the case holding the flag that sits on top of my bookcase. I’ll think about these people I loved so deeply and I will think about and pray for their comrades who didn’t come home. The debt we owe our fallen heroes is one we can never truly repay.
Notable People Buried at Arlington:
- Robert Todd Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln, is buried in Section 31.
- John F. Kenney and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
- Medgar Evers – Civil-rights leader who was shot outside of his home in Mississippi in June 1963.
- Samuel Dashiell Hammett, author of “The Maltese Falcon” and “The Thin Man” is buried in Section 12. Hammett is also a U.S. Army veteran of World Wars I and II
- Actors Audie Murphy, Lee Marvin, Jackie Cooper and Charles Durning
- Glenn Miller — noted composer, arranger, trombonist, and Big Band leader. has been missing in action since Dec. 15, 1944. At his daughter’s request, a stone was placed in Memorial Section H, Number 464-A on Wilson Drive in Arlington National Cemetery in April 1992.
- Anita Newcomb McGee is buried in Section 1. In 1898, she was the first woman to be appointed as the Acting Assistant Surgeon in the U.S. Army and was in charge of the Army’s nurses under the Army Surgeon General’s Department. She pursued the establishment of a permanent nursing corps, which became the Army Nurse Corps.
- Ludwig Bemelmans – Author and illustrator, best known author of the “Madeline” children’s books
- James Parks is the only person buried in the cemetery who was also born on the property. Parks was a former slave who had worked at the Arlington House and later became a cemetery caretaker, likely burying thousands of service members. He died in 1929 and is buried in Section 15.
- Joe “Louis” Barrow “The Brown Bomber” – held the title of Heavyweight Champion of the World longer and defended it more times than any other boxer in history. As a sergeant during World War II, he donated $100,000 to Army and Navy relief efforts and fought 96 exhibition matches for more than 2 million troops. (Section 7A, site 172).
- President William H. Taft is also buried there with his wife, Nellie. Taft was the 27th president of the United States and later served as the nation’s 10th chief justice — the only person to have served in both offices. Mrs. Taft was instrumental in bringing the Japanese Cherry Blossoms to the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C.