Two weeks ago, when my husband and I took our two youngest children to D.C., being there with my family made me feel as if I had never been there. There was so much to do and only one week's time; we had to choose what we felt was important for our kids to come away seeing. What this meant was sitting down and without realizing it, laying out our values. Discussing what being in our nation's capitol meant.
Our starting point was The Smithsonian. The Smithsonian is actually 17 museums, 2 specialty museums, and one National Zoo. There is no admission fee to any of these sites. They are free. That price was right for my frugal husband's budget. He is still whispering Smithsonian in his sleep. Boom. Our week right there. We would spend our time visiting 2 museums a day, and save the last day for the National Zoo. Done and discussed and settled.
And then our oldest son called, he wasn't with us. He asked what day we'd be going to see the memorials: the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the WWII Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial, the Korean War Memorial. Arlington National Cemetery, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We told him we didn't have the time with all the museums to see. I felt my face turn red with shame when he said, "I can't believe it. You're in D.C. and you're not going to any memorials, mom?" The way he sounded, his disappointment, made me turn to my husband and tell him there was a change in plans. We'd be going to Arlington.
The Smithsonian Museums were all wonderful, of the ones we were able to visit. The memorials were the moment of pause that gave weight to our trip. But the sight of Arlington National Cemetery, the first glimpse of rows and rows of white crosses of service members that knew nothing else than to sacrifice for their country, I can't even begin to explain the emotions we felt.
All those lives stretched out in markers before us.
No one grew restless, no one complained, no one asked when we would be going home.
About ten burials a day take place at Arlington, each of them by horse drawn casket. The day we were there, we witnessed one service and one procession. There are signs every 100 feet or so requesting silence, making the steady clip-clop of the horses' hooves even more solemn. That stillness, together with the sight of soldiers in their respectful ceremonial dress dutifully marching behind, following the flag draped casket, did both my husband and me in. Our children knew not to ask why we were wiping our eyes.
At the end of our day there, we climbed to the top of Arlington's hills to see the Tomb of the Unknowns.
Since July 2, 1937, a guard has been posted there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week -- no matter how cold, how hot, how heavy the rain or snow, the watch has never ceased. During 9/11, the guard never left.
The monument is dedicated to American service members who have died without their remains ever being identified. Without anyone on earth ever knowing who they were.
On the western panel, centered and inscribed, are the words:
- HERE RESTS IN
- HONORED GLORY
- AN AMERICAN
- KNOWN BUT TO GOD
We had found the most important thing to see in Washington, D.C.