Most holidays pass on much as any other day for me, but the Fourth of July and Veterans Day still after all these years move something in me as memories of years past roll fresh as the day they were acquired. The Fourth always evokes that one evening while living in the Washington, DC area when Leo and I were invited to watch the festivities on the Mall from the Arlington House located in Arlington Cemetery.
The house sits atop a hill in what was originally a plantation during the pre-Civil War era. It was built between 1802 and 1818 becoming the home of George Washington Parke Custis, George Washington’s adopted grandson. It was an 1100 plantation sitting high on a hill overlooking the Potomac River and the city of Washington, DC. Custis daughter, an only child named Mary Anna later married a childhood friend and distant cousin, Robert E. Lee. Mary Anna legally owned the property until it was confiscated by the Union Army during the Civil War. Her son later sued for the return of the property to the Lee family. It was purchased by the federal government in 1883 for public use.
A historic preservation site, the house is maintained by the Parks Service sitting as it does amid more than 14,000 gravesites that make up Arlington Cemetery. The cemetery is the final resting place of presidents, veterans, Supreme Court justices, astronauts, and others including the Tomb of the Unknowns. The inscription reads, “Here Rests In Honored Glory An American Soldier Known But To God”
The tomb is guarded 24 hours each day, 365 days a year by the Old Guard detachment of the Army. The changing of the guards is one of the most moving rites to be seen. Although I visited the Tomb many times, it was always awe-inspiring to watch these men perform their duties. No matter how boisterous elsewhere, the crowd is always hushed near the Tomb. It personifies loss with all the profundity and respect due the deserving unknown.
In this election year, as our ears and senses are battered by the endless ravings of those who seek election choosing to do good whether for themselves or for the people, perhaps, we should remember that our essence is to be a good, caring nation. That is better than fireworks anytime.