Memorial Day and Arlington Cemetery

This isn’t a holiday that’s always been here.  The first Memorial Day was conducted at Arlington National Cemetery on May 30, 1929.  The cemetery was built on the estate of General Robert E. Lee after the Yankees stole it from him; well they wanted him to pay his taxes in person and considering the Civil War was going on and he was commanding southern troops, he wasn’t going to appear to pay the taxes so the Union took it.

Arlington is an amazing place to visit and contains as much history as any facility in Washington DC.   People who were inaccessible in life are there for eternity for you to pay your respects to.  The first solider buried there was Private William Henry Christman of Pennsylvania on May 13, 1864 along with about 400,000 others, including 367 Medal of Honor winners.   Presidents Taft and Kennedy are there along with JFK’s bothers Ted and Robert.  The number of names you’d recognize range from Pappy Boyington to Joe Louis (who served in the Army in WWII).  Chappie James is there as well James Jabara (America’s first Jet Ace in Korea, who is buried with his daughter who lost control of the car they were in killing them both).

To me, the most important part of Arlington is to the Tomb of the Unknowns.  It is actually a series of memorials to the Unknown Soliders from WWI to the present.  There was a Vietnam Tomb, but in 1998 the remains were identified as those of USAF LT. Michael Blassie (worth reading about on the web) and he was to St.Louis.  The “Vietnam” Crypt was redesignated to encompass all missing servicemen.

The Tomb Guards, known as “Sentinels”, are considered to have one of the most honored positions in the Army.  It is very difficult to become a Sentinel and it is very demanding service.  They guard in a full wool uniform, regardless of the temperature, which they spend up to 6 hours preparing for their shift.  They don’t wear any rank insignia so that they do not outrank the unknowns.   Their rounds are precise and executed perfectly each time.  They currently carry an M-14 rifle which is always on the shoulder away from the Tomb.  Guards are changed every 30 minutes during the summer, once an hour during the winter and every two hours after the cemetery closes to the public.   The ceremony is precise and conducted in accordance with Army Regulations.

By now everyone has seen the email about the life style of a Sentinel , some of which is true and some of which sounds good, but is false.  A concise analysis of the mixture of truth and fiction can be found at

So as you start the Memorial Day festivities take a look at the pictures and think about Arlington for a minute.   At this point we should hear Trace Adkins singing “Arlington” in the background…..


And I’m proud to be on this peaceful piece of property,
I’m on sacred ground and I’m in the best of company,
I’m thankful for those thankful for the things I’ve done,
I can rest in peace, I’m one of the chosen ones,
I made it to Arlington.


You can contact the author, Mark Hrutkay, at TNMark@Me.Com

Mark Hrutkay

Mark has been a member of the International Association of Aviation Photographers (ISAP) for several years and attends all their events and seminars. He has won several awards for his work and has been published in several aviation magazines, domestic and foreign. You can contact Mark Hrutkay at TNMark@Me.Com.

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