Archive for the ‘Cemeteries’ Category

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Tim Russert’s headstone at Rock Creek Cemetery

After recently reading “Big Russ and Me, Father and Son: Lessons of Life”, the critically-acclaimed memoir written by Tim Russert, I found myself nostalgically remembering NBC’s Meet the Press when Tim Russert was the moderator.  While it was a nationally broadcast show, it was based here in D.C. And Russert was the moderator of the Sunday morning political news talk show for 16 years, until his death in 2008.  I also thought about how he was considered one of the most trusted and admired figures in American television newscasting.  But now the words trusted and and admired and news don’t seem to go in the same sentence much anymore.  A lot has changed in the world since he passed away.    

So, on this bike ride, I chose to ride to Rock Creek Cemetery, in northwest D.C.’s Brightwood Park neighborhood (MAP), to visit the gravesite where Russert is buried.  

Born Timothy John Russert in Buffalo, New York (about an hour from where I was born), he was the second of four children and the only son of Timothy Joseph “Big Russ” Russert, a sanitation worker, and Elizabeth “Betty” Seeley Russert, a homemaker. He received a Jesuit education from Canisius High School, before earning a bachelor’s degree in 1972 from John Carroll University and a Juris Doctor with honors from the Cleveland State University Cleveland–Marshall College of Law, in 1976.

After completing his education and before becoming moderator for Meet the Press, Russert’s career highlights included running one of U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s five major law offices based in Buffalo. Within five years he became a special counsel and chief of staff to Moynihan, a Democrat from Hell’s Kitchen, New York. He then became a top aide to New York Governor Mario Cuomo, also a Democrat.  

He left politics in 1984 to become a journalist when he became the senior vice president of NBC News’ Washington operations. Four years later, in 1988, he was promoted to Washington bureau chief of NBC News. And in 1991 he took the job as moderator of Meet the Press. Throughout his time on Meet the Press, Russert also moderated numerous political debates between candidates in U.S. Senate races, governor races in various states, and between presidential candidates. The candidates in those debates included politicians ranging from David Duke to Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Russert met Maureen Orth at the 1980 Democratic National Convention. They were married three years later at the Basilica de San Miguel in Madrid, Spain. Maureen was also a journalist, and still works as a reporter, author, and a special correspondent for Vanity Fair magazine. Together they had one child, a son, named Luke. Luke is a former NBC News correspondent, and was an intern with ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption and NBC’s Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Luke currently hosts the XM Radio show 60/20 Sports with political consultant James Carville, who has made numerous appearances on Meet the Press.  

In June of 2008 Russert returned from a family vacation in Rome, Italy, where they had celebrated Luke’s graduation from Boston College. While his wife and son remained in Rome, Russert had returned to prepare for his Sunday show. On June 13th, at the offices of WRC-TV where he was recording voiceovers for his show, Russert collapsed from a heart attack. A co-worker immediately began performing CPR on him while 911 was called. The D.C. Fire and Rescue service received the call at 1:40 pm and dispatched an EMS unit which arrived four minutes later.  Paramedics attempted to defibrillate Russert’s heart three times, but he did not respond. Russert was then transported to Sibley Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. He was 58 years old, the same age I am now. 

As I sat on the bench at Russert’s gravesite, I thought about how much more vitriolic and divisive politics have become since he passed away.  In 2008 Donald Trump was a celebrity TV star who hosted “The Apprentice” and co-hosted “The Celebrity Apprentice”.  And that year Donald Trump backed Hillary Clinton for president and stated that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi should impeach President George W. Bush.  And as I sat there I wondered what Russert would have thought of the fact that Donald Trump was now the President, who beat Hillary Clinton to become President, and was later impeached by Speaker Pelosi.  And I wondered if, considering how different the world is now, things could ever get back to the way they were when Russert hosted Meet the Press.   

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Some additional interesting aspects of Russert’s life include: 

  • Although he wasn’t the first to use the terminology, Russert is credited coining the phrases “red states” and “blue states”. However, when Russert used the phrases Republican states were blue, and Democratic states were red. The colors have since switched places, and how the colors got switched is not clear.
  • Russert once told a story on Meet the Press about how he went to Woodstock “in a Buffalo Bills jersey with a case of beer.”
  • While in law school, an official from John Carroll University called Russert to ask if he could book some concerts for the school as he had done while a student there. One concert that Russert booked was headlined by a then-unknown singer named Bruce Springsteen, who charged $2,500 for the appearance.
  • During his coverage of the 2000 presidential election, Russert calculated possible Electoral College outcomes using a whiteboard, and that whiteboard is now in the Smithsonian Institution.
  • Russert was an enthusiastic sports fan. He grew up as a New York Yankees fan, but switched his allegiance to the Washington Nationals when they were established in D.C. in 2005.
  • Russert held season tickets to both the Nationals baseball games and the Washington Wizards basketball games.
  • Russert was also a lifelong fan of the Buffalo Bills football team, and often closed Sunday broadcasts during the football season with a statement of encouragement for the franchise. The team released a statement on the day of his death, saying that listening to Russert’s “Go Bills” exhortation was part of their Sunday morning game preparation.
  • After he passed away, the route leading to the Bills’ Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York, was renamed the “Timothy J. Russert Highway”.
  • Russert was also a fan of the Buffalo Sabres hockey team and appeared on an episode of Meet the Press next to the Stanley Cup during a Sabres playoff run.
  • Russert, when he was a student at the Cleveland–Marshall College of Law, attended Ten Cent Beer Night, a promotion by the Cleveland Indians which ended in a riot at the stadium. “I went with $2 in my pocket,” he recalled. “You do the math.”
  • Russert was elected in 2003 to the board of directors of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
  • Russert was friends with Fred Rogers, host of the iconic PBS children’s program “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”.
  • During his career, Russert received 48 honorary doctorate degrees.
  • Russert’s favorite beer was Rolling Rock. And, at his funeral, friend and fellow NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw brought and raised a Rolling Rock in Russert’s memory.
  • Russert received an Emmy Award for his news coverage of the funeral of former President Ronald Reagan.
  • Russert was a lifelong devout Catholic, and shortly before his death he had an audience with Pope Benedict XVI.
  • In 2008, the same year in which he would later pass away, Time magazine named Russert one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

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The Sentinels at the Tomb of the Unknowns

Since 1937 the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery (MAP) has been guarded every minute of every day, 365 days a year, even when the cemetery is closed and in any kind of weather. It is guarded by Tomb Guard sentinels, who are considered to be the best of the elite 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as “The Old Guard,” headquartered at Fort Myer, Virginia, which is adjacent to the cemetery. Serving the U.S. since 1784, the Old Guard is the oldest active infantry unit in the military.

Because it is considered such a high honor, the process to become a sentinel is incredibly difficult. Members of the Old Guard must volunteer for the position. Volunteers who are accepted are then assigned to Company E of The Old Guard. Each soldier must be in superb physical condition, possess an unblemished military record and be between 5 feet, 10 inches and 6 feet, 4 inches tall for males or 5 feet, 8 inches and 6 feet, 2 inches tall for females with a proportionate weight and build. An interview and a two-week trial to determine a volunteer’s capability to be trained as a sentinel then is required.

During the trial phase, would-be sentinels memorize seven pages of Arlington National Cemetery history. This information must be recited verbatim in order to earn a “walk.” A walk occurs between guard changes. A daytime walk is one-half hour in the summer and one hour in the winter. All night walks are one hour.

And each walk performed by a tomb sentinel is identical, with the steps the sentinels perform having specific meaning. Everything the sentinels do is a series of 21, which symbolizes the 21-gun salute, the highest military honor that can be bestowed, and is reserved for the President and foreign heads of state, but also for the Unknowns.

The sentinel marches 21 steps down the black mat behind the Tomb, turns, faces east for 21 seconds, turns and faces north for 21 seconds, then takes 21 steps down the mat and repeats the process. After the turn, the sentinel executes a sharp “shoulder-arms” movement to place the weapon on the shoulder closest to the visitors to signify that the sentinel stands between the Tomb and any possible threat.

The Sentinel then repeats this over and over until the Guard Change Ceremony begins with the appearance of a relief commander, who will approach and salute the Tomb. The commander then turns to the crowd and asks everyone to rise and remain silent during the ceremony. As the Commander is speaking, the relief sentinel will report. The commander will walk over to the relief sentinel and conduct a full inspection of the new sentinel, inspecting the weapon and the sentinel himself. This is a real inspection and the relief sentinel can be sent away, leaving the current sentinel in place till the next scheduled Changing of the Guard. If approved, both the commander and relief sentinel will walk to the middle to meet with the posted sentinel, all the while keeping in step with each other. At this point, the ceremony concludes when the posted sentinel step off of the mat and faces the relief sentinel. Both sentinels will acknowledge each other with orders. All three will salute the Tomb, then the relief sentinel will step onto the mat and take over where the now relieved sentinel left off. Both the commander and the relieved sentinel will then walk off in step with each other and exit to the right, concluding the ceremony.

Duty time when not “walking” is spent in the Tomb Guard Quarters below the Memorial Display Room of the Memorial Amphitheater where they study cemetery “knowledge,” clean their weapons and help the rest of their relief prepare for the Changing of the Guard. The guards also train on their days off.

If a soldier successfully passes the training during the trial phase, “new-soldier” training begins. New sentinels learn the history of Arlington National Cemetery and the grave locations of nearly 300 veterans. They learn the guard-change ceremony and the manual of arms that takes place during the inspection portion of the Changing of the Guard. Sentinels also learn to keep their uniforms and weapons in immaculate condition, a meticulous process that by itself can take up to eight hours each day.

After several months of walking and serving, sentinels are then tested to earn the privilege of wearing the silver Tomb Guard Identification Badge. First, they are tested on their manual of arms, uniform preparation and their walks. Then, the Badge Test is given. The test is 100 randomly selected questions of the 300 items memorized during training on the history of Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The would-be badge holder must get more than 95 percent correct to succeed.

The Tomb Guard badge is the least awarded badge in the Army, and the second least awarded badge in the overall military. (The first is the astronaut badge.) Tomb Sentinels are held to the highest standards of behavior, and can have their badge taken away for any action on or off duty that could bring disrespect to the Tomb. And that’s for the entire lifetime of the Tomb Guard, even well after his or her guarding duty is over.

The Sentinel’s Creed

My dedication to this sacred duty is total and whole-hearted.
In the responsibility bestowed on me never will I falter.
And with dignity and perseverance my standard will remain perfection.
Through the years of diligence and praise and the discomfort of the elements,
I will walk my tour in humble reverence to the best of my ability.
It is he who commands the respect I protect, his bravery that made us so proud.
Surrounded by well meaning crowds by day, alone in the thoughtful peace of night,
this soldier will in honored glory rest under my eternal vigilance.

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NOTE:  Due to the coronavirus pandemic Arlington National Cemetery is closed to visitors until further notice.  Funerals, however, are proceeding as scheduled albeit with certain limitations.  Please check their website for specific and updated information.

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Colonel Justice Marion Chambers

In 1990, the United States Congress designated March 25th of each year as National Medal of Honor Day, which is dedicated to all Medal of Honor recipients.  And during today’s lunchtime bike ride to Arlington National Cemetery (MAP), and in observance of today’s designation, I chose to stop and pay my respects at the grave of a Medal of Honor recipient named Justice M. Chambers.

Justice Marion “Jumping Joe” Chambers was born at Huntington, West Virginia, February 2, 1908.  He grew up and went to school there, completing three years at Marshall College before leaving Huntington for D.C.   He then attended George Washington University and National University, where he obtained his law degree.

In 1930, following the completion of two years enlistment in the Naval Reserve, Chambers joined the Marine Corps Reserve as a private.  He was commissioned two years later, and continued his studies toward promotion.  He was a major, attending summer camp, when Washington’s 5th Battalion was called up in 1940 to aid in the war effort.

He served with honor and distinction until a fateful day almost five years later when, on February 19, 1945, Chambers commanded the 3rd Assault Battalion Landing Team, 25th Marines, 4th Marine Division, in the Iwo Jima landing.  His sector was beneath high ground from which heavy enemy fire raked the whole landing beach. Capture of the high ground was considered essential to the success of the operations. It is an established fact that had it not been done, it would have constituted a most serious threat to subsequent operations.

The 3rd Battalion lost more than half its officers and nearly one-half its enlisted strength on D-Day.  But, according to the citation that would accompany his medal, it was by “fearless disregard for his own life” and leading his depleted battalion “by example rather than command” that Chambers won the key heights and anchored the right flank of the Marines’ position.

On the fourth day, directing the Marines’ first rocket barrage and exposed to the enemy’s main line of resistance, Chambers and his men fell under enemy machine-gun fire.  Chambers was hit, and his wounds were so serious that he was medically retired.  And because he had been specially commended for performance of duty in combat, he was promoted to the rank of colonel.

Chambers had been recommended for the award on April 7, 1945, following his evacuation, seriously wounded, from Iwo Jima.  However, he initially received the Navy Cross for his actions.  But upon re-examination of the original recommendation with additional evidence, his award was upgraded to the Medal of Honor a few years later.  Presentation of the Medal of Honor was made at the White House by President Harry S. Truman on November 1, 1950.  (Later that same day, two Puerto Rican nationalists attempted to assassinate Truman across the street at Blair House. )

Chambers retired from the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve January 1, 1946. After his retirement, he served as staff advisor for the Senate Armed Services Committee. Chambers was appointed in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy to the post of deputy director of the Office of Emergency Planning, where he served with distinction until his retirement. He died on July 29, 1982.

The citation accompanying Chambers’ Medal of Honor reads:

“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the 3d Assault Battalion Landing Team, 25th Marines, 4th Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, from 19 to 22 February 1945. Under a furious barrage of enemy machinegun and small-arms fire from the commanding cliffs on the right, Colonedl Chambers (then Lt. Col.) landed immediately after the initial assault waves of his battalion on D-day to find the momentum of the assault threatened by heavy casualties from withering Japanese artillery, mortar rocket, machinegun, and rifle fire. Exposed to relentless hostile fire, he coolly reorganized his battle-weary men, inspiring them to heroic efforts by his own valor and leading them in an attack on the critical, impregnable high ground from which the enemy was pouring an increasing volume of fire directly onto troops ashore as well as amphibious craft in succeeding waves. Constantly in the front lines encouraging his men to push forward against the enemy’s savage resistance, Colonel Chambers led the 8-hour battle to carry the flanking ridge top and reduce the enemy’s fields of aimed fire, thus protecting the vital foothold gained. In constant defiance of hostile fire while reconnoitering the entire regimental combat team zone of action, he maintained contact with adjacent units and forwarded vital information to the regimental commander. His zealous fighting spirit undiminished despite terrific casualties and the loss of most of his key officers, he again reorganized his troops for renewed attack against the enemy’s main line of resistance and was directing the fire of the rocket platoon when he fell, critically wounded. Evacuated under heavy Japanese fire, Colonel Chambers, by forceful leadership, courage, and fortitude in the face of staggering odds, was directly instrumental in insuring the success of subsequent operations of the 5th Amphibious Corps on Iwo Jima, thereby sustaining and enhancing the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.”

Note:  In addition to the Medal of Honor, Silver Star Medal and Legion of Merit with Combat “V,” Col Chambers’ decorations and medals include the Purple Heart Medal with two gold stars, Presidential Unit Citation with three bronze stars, Organized Marine Corps Reserve Medal with two stars, American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with one silver star (denoting five campaigns), and the World War II Victory Medal.

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The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, also known as the Tomb of the Unknowns, is not the only local memorial dedicated to soldiers who had died in battle but later could not be identified.  There is The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution, located in the churchyard Burial Ground of the Old Presbyterian Meeting House in Alexandria.  And during this lunchtime bike ride, I rode to another of these memorials.  I visited The Civil War Unknowns Memorial.  It is also located in Arlington National Cemetery, on the grounds of Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial.  And the memorial I saw today actually predates the other two, making it the earliest such memorial in the local area.

In 1865, U.S. Army Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs decided to build a memorial to Civil War dead.  The following year, in September of 1866, The Civil War Unknowns Memorial, was dedicated.  It stands atop a masonry vault containing the remains of 2,111 soldiers gathered from the battlefields of first and second battles of Bull Run as well as the route of the Union army’s retreat along the Rappahannock River.  The remains were found scattered across the battlefields or in trenches and brought to the cemetery.  None were identifiable.  And because in some instances only a few bones or a skull was recovered, it is presumed the vault contains the remains of both Confederate and Union Soldiers.

In constructing the memorial a circular pit, measuring approximately 20 feet wide and 20 feet deep, was dug.  The walls and floor were lined with brick, and it was segmented it into compartments with mortared brick walls.  Into each compartment were placed a different body part: skulls, legs, arms, ribs, etc.  The vault was then  sealed with concrete and soil.  Atop the burial vault was placed a 6-foot tall, 12-foot long, and 4-foot wide grey granite and concrete cenotaph, which was personally designed by General Meigs.  On the west face is an inscription that reads:

BENEATH THIS STONE
REPOSE THE BONES OF TWO THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED AND ELEVEN UNKNOWN SOLDIERS
GATHERED AFTER THE WAR
FROM THE FIELDS OF BULL RUN, AND THE ROUTE TO THE RAPPAHANOCK,
THEIR REMAINS COULD NOT BE IDENTIFIED. BUT THEIR NAMES AND DEATHS ARE
RECORDED IN THE ARCHIVES OF THEIR COUNTRY, AND ITS GRATEFUL CITIZENS
HONOR THEM AS OF THEIR NOBLE ARMY OF MARTYRS. MAY THEY REST IN PEACE.
SEPTEMBER. A. D. 1866.

The original memorial has undergone a number of aesthetic changes over the years.  But it’s original purpose, to honor our country’s unidentified dead from the Civil War, remains unchanged.

The Cenotaphs at Historic Congressional Cemetery

I have found that cemeteries are often bastions of history, especially here in D.C.  The graves of the many historic figures, politicians and famous people buried here provide a portal to the history that they lived.  But Historic Congressional Cemetery, located at 1801 E Street in southeast D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood (MAP), and which happens to be one of my favorite cemeteries in the city, also has a number of cenotaphs that also point to a wealth of history.  And it was the cemetery’s 165 cenotaphs that were the destination and purpose of my lunchtime bike ride today.

Traditionally, the word “cenotaph” is defined as A cenotaph is an “empty tomb” or a monument erected in honor of a person or group of people whose remains are elsewhere. It can also be the initial tomb for a person who has since been interred elsewhere.  As used at the Congressional Cemetery, the term cenotaph includes not only those that fall under the traditional definition, but also to monuments that mark the actual graves of representatives and senators who died in office during the first several decades of the nation’s history. Some congressmen are buried under a cenotaph, some are buried with a headstone instead of a cenotaph in a different area of the cemetery, and for some the marker is a true cenotaph. And one individual, a Revolutionary War soldier and Congressman from North Carolina named James Gillespie, who was reinterred in 1892, has a separate grave and cenotaph.

Designed by architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe, who was then working on the new south wing of the U.S. Capitol Building, the cenotaphs are constructed of Aquia sandstone, as are The White House and the Capitol Building, and were likewise painted white, forming a visual connection with these nearby symbols of Federal government, and a contrast to the cemetery’s surrounding gravestones. They are grouped in rows in the older part of the cemetery near the main entrance, where they dominate the landscape.

A cenotaph was erected at Congressional Cemetery for each congressman who died in office from 1833 to 1876. The first was for Congressman James Lent from New York, who was initially interred in the cemetery. But after Congress appropriated funds and his monument was ordered, his family had his body brought back and reinterred in New York. Congress erected the monument in 1839 anyway, establishing the tradition of erecting cenotaphs.

After the Civil War very few congressmen were buried in the cemetery, as their bodies were commonly shipped to their home states or buried in the new United States National Cemetery System, in cemeteries such as Arlington National Cemetery. And cenotaphs were discontinued for the most part in 1876, after Massachusetts Senator George Frisbie Hoar stated that “the thought of being buried beneath one of those atrocities brought new terror to death.”

Since that time, only two new cenotaphs have been erected at the cemetery. After a 1972 plane crash in which their bodies were unable to be recovered, Thomas Hale Boggs Sr., the majority leader in the House at the time, and Nick Begich, a Congressman from Alaska, share a cenotaph. And the last one to date is for former Speaker of the House Thomas P “Tip” O’Neill, Jr., who was honored with a cenotaph in 1994, although it is not in the style of the Latrobe cenotaphs.

Anton Hilberath

Despite Arlington National Cemetery (MAP) usually being thought of as a place where America lays to rest its heroes and honored dead, there are also “enemies” buried there.  From its very beginning,  the cemetery has also been the final resting place of individuals considered to be enemy combatants.  It began with Confederate soldiers.  At the time they were buried they were considered the enemy.  However, most people no longer consider them as such.  In addition to the Confederate soldiers, I was surprised to learn that there are also three foreign prisoners of war from World War II laid to rest there.  So on this bike ride, I set out to find them.

During World War II there were approximately 435,788 prisoners of war held in more than 900 camps in 46 states, plus Alaska, which was not yet a state.  The vast majority of these prisoners were from the German military, although there were also approximately 51,455 Italians and 5,435 Japanese held in the United States.  Of these men, there is one German prisoner of war, named Anton Hilberath, buried in Arlington National Cemetery.  Although his is the only grave there, he is one of at least 830 German prisoners of war who died and were buried in the United States.  Of the Italian prisoners of war held in the United States, there are only two buried at Arlington National.  Their names are Mario Batista and Arcangelo Prudenza.  All three were captured and taken prisoner during the African Campaign in North Africa.  They were then shipped across the Atlantic Ocean and held on Maryland’s eastern shore.  There they were permitted to work on farms, for modest pay, since it was decided that they presented no risk to people in the area and likely would not try to escape.

All three died in captivity in 1946, and were buried in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, which stated that if a prisoner of war or a foreign national died in another country during World War II, they should be buried in the closest national cemetery of that country.  So with Arlington National being the closest national cemetery, all three men were buried there.

Little information is available about these three men, or most of the other prisoners, inasmuch as virtually all records of prisoners were transferred to military authorities in their home countries through the International Red Cross.  So unfortunately, the lost and the incomplete records that remain, compounded by the passage of time, means that it is likely we will never know much more about these men than the information contained on their headstones – their names, ranks, and when they died.

Having seen German, Italian, as well as Japanese tourists visiting The National World War II Memorial on the National Mall here in D.C., I find it increasingly difficult to remember how these people were so negatively viewed in this country less than a lifetime ago.  And that’s a good thing.

Mario Batista

Arcangelo Prudenza

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Chaplains Hill and Monuments

On today’s bike ride I rode to Arlington National Cemetery because I had not been there for awhile, and because there is always something new to me to discover there. And as I was walking through the cemetery I saw some unusual gravestones, four of them together on the top of a small hill, that had large brass plaques on them. So naturally I went over to see them better and find out what they are.

It turns out they are on the top of what is called Chaplains Hill, which is located in Section 2 of the cemetery. And the four gravestones are actually cenotaphs, which are monuments erected in honor of a person or group of people whose remains are elsewhere, especially commemorating people who died in a war. The cenotaphs are dedicated to the memory of chaplains who have served in the United States Armed Forces.The four monuments on Chaplains Hill are to those lost in World War I, to Protestant Chaplains, to Catholic Chaplains, and to Jewish Chaplains, were dedicated at different times over almost a century.

The first of the four cenotaphs was dedicated on May 5, 1926, by chaplains who served in World War I. The monument honored the twenty-three chaplains who died in that war. Two quotations are inscribed on the cenotaph: “Greater Love Hath No Man Than This, That A Man Lay Down His Life For His Friends,” and “To You From Falling Hands We Throw The Torch – Be Yours To Hold It High.”

The second cenotaph is a memorial to the 134 Protestant Chaplains who died in World Wars I and II. It was dedicated on October 26, 1981, and the inscription reads: “To The Glory of God And The Memory Of The Chaplains Who Died In Services Of Their Country.”

A cenotaph to the 83 Catholic Chaplains who died in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam was dedicated and placed on Chaplains Hill on May 21, 1989. The monument is inscribed: “May God Grant Peace To Them And To The Nation They Served So Well.”

The remaining cenotaph is dedicated to 14 Jewish Chaplains who died while serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces, and was dedicated October 24, 2011. One of the inscriptions on the monument reads: “Dedicated to the Jewish chaplains who have served our country in the United States Armed Forces. May the memory of those who perished while in service be a blessing.”

Additionally, among the individuals honored at Arlington National’s Chaplains Hill include: the Army’s first Chief of Chaplains, Colonel John T. Axton of World War I; World War II’s Chief of Chaplains William A. Arnold, who was the first Chaplain to make General; and Major Charles Joseph Watters who served in Vietnam and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on November 19, 1967. Unarmed, Watters was rendering aid to fallen comrades, disregarding his own safety when he was killed by a bomb explosion. Watters is one of eight members from the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps who have been awarded the Medal of Honor: four from the Civil War; one from the Boxer Rebellion; two from the Vietnam War; and one from the Korean War.

Also honored are four U.S. Army chaplains who in 1943 gave up their life jackets and prayed together when their transport ship, the USAT Dorchester, was torpedoed eighty miles south of Greenland. The chaplains came from different faiths and backgrounds. John P. Washington was a Catholic Priest from Kearny, New Jersey; Rabbi Alexander D. Goode was a native of York, Pennsylvania; Clark V. Poling was a minister in the Reformed Church in America at the First Reformed Church in Schenectady, New York; and George L. Fox, a decorated World War I veteran, was a Methodist minister in Gilman, Vermont.

Chaplains have the rank of a military commissioned officer and serve the dual roles of religious leader and staff officer, but do not possess the duties or responsibilities of command. Service regulations further prohibit chaplains from bearing arms and classify chaplains as noncombatants. Article 24 of the Geneva Convention identifies chaplains as protected personnel in their function and capacity as ministers of religion. But despite this, 419 military chaplains have died in wars since the founding of this country. The breakdown, by war, is as follows: 25 in the Revolutionary War; one each in the War of 1812 and the Mexican War; 117 on Union side, 41 on the Confederacy side during the Civil War; 23 in World War I; 182 in World War II, 13 in the Korean War; 15 in the war in Vietnam, and one in Iraq/Afghanistan.
 

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Battleground National Cemetery

On this lunchtime bike ride, while I was riding north on Georgia Avenue with no particular destination in mind, I came across a small cemetery, located at 6625 Georgia Avenue (MAP).  Located near Fort Stevens in the city’s Brightwood neighborhood, I found out that it is named Battleground National Cemetery, and it’s a military burial ground managed by the National Park Service, together with other components of Rock Creek Park.  Later, I found out a lot more.

The cemetery was created after the Civil War Battle of Fort Stevens, which took place on July 11 and 12, 1864.  The battle was significant in that it marked the defeat of General Jubal Anderson Early’s Confederate campaign to launch an offensive action against the poorly defended national capitol city.  The Battle of Fort Stevens also gained notoriety as being the only military action in which the commander in chief, President Abraham Lincoln, came under direct fire from an enemy force.  President Lincoln lived, but during the battle, 59 soldiers were killed on the Union side, and there were approximately 500 casualties on the Confederate side.

After the battle, Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs seized an acre of farm land to use for burying the dead. Under direction from President Lincoln and General Meigs, forty were buried on the evening of July 12, 1864, on the battlefield site. That night, Lincoln came to the site to dedicate it as Battleground National Cemetery.

The piece of land seized for the cemetery was previously part of a fruit orchard owned by farmer James Malloy.  When he returned to his land after the dust cleared from the battle, Malloy was upset that his land was taken and challenged the action. Through an act of Congress passed on February 22, 1867, the land was acquired and officially transferred to the Federal government, and on July 23, 1868, payment made to Malloy.

Battleground National Cemetery is one of our Nation’s smallest national cemeteries. The entrance to the cemetery is flanked by two Civil War vintage 6-pounder, smoothbore guns.  Also near the entrance are monuments commemorating each of the units which fought at Fort Stevens.  They were the 25th New York Volunteer Cavalry, the 98th Pennsylvania Volunteer, the 122nd New York Volunteer, and the 150th Ohio National Guard.

The center of the cemetery is marked by a central flagpole, surrounded by 41 regulation marble headstones, marking the remains of the honored dead of Fort Stevens. Behind these headstones and to the east, stands a marble rostrum used to conduct yearly Memorial Day services. The four granite pillars are in memory of the four volunteer companies who fought at Fort Stevens.

Also within the cemetery grounds is a series of cast iron markers containing the first of the twelve stanzas of a poem entitled “Bivouac of the Dead,” which was written by Theodore O’Hara in memory of those men who perished during the Mexican-American War.  The poem, as well as the words of the Gettysburg Address found on the side of the caretaker’s lodge, are reminiscent of many national cemeteries.

For an aimless bike ride with no particular destination in mind, I sure came across a lot of interesting history.  Unfortunately, that portion of Georgia Avenue is not particularly bike friendly.  So I imagine the vast majority of those driving hastily by in their vehicles probably have no idea of what they are passing by, and the history behind it.

         

         

    

         

                   
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

BIVOUAC OF THE DEAD
The muffled drum’s sad roll has beat
The soldier’s last tattoo;
No more on life’s parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
On Fame’s eternal camping-ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And Glory guards, with solemn round,
The bivouac of the dead.

Mayor Marion Barry’s Headstone

After dominating his city’s political life for most of four decades, former D.C. Mayor Marion Shepilov Barry, Jr. passed away on November 23, 2014 at the age of 78.  But for the first couple of years after his passing, there was no public memorial or monument, or even a private headstone at his gravesite in Historic Congressional Cemetery.  On this lunchtime bike ride I rode to the cemetery to see the headstone that was finally installed at his gravesite.

The headstone was designed by Cora Masters Barry, Barry’s wife, and his late son, Christopher Barry, who subsequently died of a drug overdose without seeing the monument completed.  It was created by Andy Del Gallo, who has worked on a number of notable projects, perhaps most prominent of which was chiseling “‘I have a dream,’ words spoken by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.”, into the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in the spot where king stood when he delivered the famous speech.  But when it came to creating a suitable grave marker for the “Mayor for Life” of  D.C., the artistic process took some twists and turns.

A spokeswoman for Barry’s family, Raymone Bain, said the process of marking Barry’s grave took longer than expected in part because the original design had to be scrapped for not conforming to the cemetery’s requirements. His son Christopher’s death was another setback.  But finally, one day short of the two year anniversary of his death, a memorial headstone was installed.

The headstone Barry’s gravesite is located amid rows of headstones and obelisks, many of them inscribed with the names of people who lived and died in the 19th century.  Barry’s grave is located in an adjoining section on the same row of the graves as Leonard Matlovich and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.

The black stone memorial includes an image of bronze relief of Barry with the words “Mayor for life, beloved forever.”  It also is inscribed with a Bible verse, found at Mark 9:35, which reads, “If any man desires to be first, the same shall be last of all and servant of all.”  It is also inscribed with a statement about Barry by Maya Angelou, which reads, “Marion Barry changed America with his unmitigated gall to stand up in the ashes of where he had fallen and come back to win.”  Lastly, another inscription on the headstone, a quote by Barry himself, reads, “Most people don’t know me … the don’t know about all of the fighting I’ve done to manage a government that was progressive and more oriented to uplift the people rather than suppress them.  That’s what I want my legacy to be.  I was a freedom fighter, and a fighter for the economic livelihood of not only black people but all people.”

And that is indeed part of his legacy.  But it is not his complete legacy, because that is a complex amalgam of good and bad, of success and failure, of a public life and a private life that cannot be easily summed up.  The Washington Post, in an article published shortly after Barry’s headstone was unveiled, described his legacy as “civil rights activism and drug use, job creation and womanizing, part history lesson and part punchline — that defies simple labels.”

The creation of a private monument for Barry underscores how little the city has done to formally memorialize its most famous public figure. City officials have said they have plans for a statue of Barry, although it is not yet clear where it will be placed or when it will be created.  So aside from naming the city’s summer jobs program after Barry, who started it, it has yet to bestow Barry’s name on a school or other significant public structure, and there is still no public memorial or monument to the “Mayor for Life”.  And with the city’s changing demographics, deciding on an apt gesture toward Barry’s four terms as mayor – as well as his additional service as a council member and school board member, and his 1960s civil rights activism – grows more complicated and less likely as time goes on.

         

         
The two photos below show how Mayor Barry’s unmarked grave looked almost two years after his death.
MarionBarry02     MarionBarry03
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

CharlesForbes02

The Grave of Charles Forbes

On this lunchtime bike ride I returned to Historic Congressional Cemetery (MAP) on Capitol Hill, one of my favorite lunchtime biking destinations. I like it because even after numerous rides there, there is still so much more history within the cemetery to be discovered and learned. This time I visited the grave of Charles Forbes, who I often think about whenever I make a mistake at work. Let me explain why.

Forbes was born in Ireland around 1835 and at the age of 26 started working at The White House in 1861, shortly after President Abraham Lincoln’s first inauguration. He was one of several house servants assigned to President Lincoln. Quickly becoming a favorite with both the President and Mrs. Lincoln, Forbes became the personal attendant to the President, a position he held for approximately four years. He also occasionally watched out for Mary Todd Lincoln and Thomas “Tad” Lincoln III, as well.

And it was during this time working for the President that Forbes made one of the biggest mistakes on the job that anyone has ever made. Forbes accompanied the Lincolns to Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865, the night that Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. That night Booth approached Forbes, who was seated outside of Lincoln’s box, and gave him his calling card. Forbes then allowed Booth to enter the door to the private box. Moments later the President was mortally wounded.

Forbes remains a mysterious figure in the events of that night. He never gave a witness statement nor did he ever leave a written or verbal account of the assassination of the President. But Mrs. Lincoln remained fond of Forbes, bore him no ill will for the evening’s events, and later presented him with the suit of clothes that Lincoln wore that night.

After Lincoln’s death, Forbes became a messenger for the U.S. Treasury Department and later for the Adjutant General’s office. He died October 10, 1885, at his home at 1711 G Street in northwest D.C., leaving his wife Margaret and a daughter, Mary. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Congressional Cemetery until 1984 when The Lincoln Group, a historical society, placed a marker on his grave.

So it was this mistake on the job of Forbes’ that makes me glad that the mistakes I make at work never result in the consequences his mistake did. Even the worst mistakes I could possibly make don’t result in altering the course of history, as his mistake did. So when I mess up, I just think of him and this bike ride, and I feel a little better.