"Fun with the Family"
See where America’s military heroes, presidents, and other public figures have been honored, memorialized, and buried. This cemetery isn’t just historical; there are often fifteen or more military funeral services a day, so don’t be surprised if you come upon a service.
Start at the visitor center near the Metro stop and obtain historical information, gravesite locations for notables, and information on Arlington House (also known as the Robert E. Lee Memorial, 703-235-1530). Tour buses (for a fee) shuttle between four stops inside the cemetery gates: the visitor center, John F. Kennedy grave site, Tomb of the Unknowns, and Arlington House.
Visit the Tomb of the Unknowns, which overlooks the Washington, D.C., skyline. The tomb contains the remains of unidentified soldiers from World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. The tomb itself is guarded twenty-four hours a day by the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, also known as the Old Guard.
Changing of the guard, a solemn and impressive ritual, occurs every half hour from March 15 through September 30 and every hour on the hour from October 1 through March 14. The guards change at two-hour intervals during night hours year-round. There is more method to the guards’ marching than one might think. The guard paces from his post and across the crossway in twenty-one steps, turning to pause while facing the memorial for twenty-one seconds. Turning once more, the guard pauses for another twenty-one seconds before repeating the process. “Twenty-one” represents the highest honor of salutation, matching the twenty-one-gun salute.
Additional graves of notables include those of General Philip Henry Sheridan, U.S. Army, a Civil War soldier; Lt. Commander Roger Bruce Chaffee, U.S. Navy, Apollo astronaut, who died while performing test operations for the Apollo One space mission; Lt. Colonel Virgil I. (“Gus”) Grissom, U.S. Air Force, Apollo astronaut, the second American in space on the Mercury mission (1961), and first person to make two space trips on the two-man Gemini flight (1965); the commingled remains of the seven astronauts who died aboard the space shuttle Challenger in 1986; William Jennings Bryan, presidential candidate, secretary of state; Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Civil War veteran, Supreme Court Justice; Joe Louis (Barrow), heavyweight boxing champion; Rear Admiral Robert E. Peary, U.S. Navy, explorer; and William Howard Taft, president, chief justice of the United States Supreme Court. Jacqueline Kennedy’s and John F. Kennedy’s gravesites are home to the Eternal Flame.
Your child may well ask how the flame stays lit: There is a constantly flashing electric spark near the tip of the gas nozzle that relights the flame if it should go out in the rain or wind.
The visitor center and parking facility are open during cemetery hours. There are special events at Arlington House on Robert E. Lee’s birthday (January 19) and on the Lees’ wedding anniversary (June 30).