Archive for the ‘Cemeteries’ Category

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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.

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New School Baptist Church

I almost always go for an extended bike ride on long holiday weekends.  And although this weekend was not a long one, when it’s February and the temperature is in the upper 70’s here in the D.C. area it’s impossible to stay inside.  So I took one of my recumbent bikes and went for a long, leisurely ride this weekend.  And during the ride I happened upon the historic site of the New School Baptist Church, which is located along The Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail at 15557 Cardinal Drive (MAP) in Dale City, Prince William County, Virginia.

According to the historic marker it was the site where slaves from plantations in the area “gathered between 1861 and 1865.  They built a brush arbor church, worshipped God and became a faithful congregation.  On December 5, 1881, Reverend John L. Bell and four other church leaders purchased one acre of this land for eleven dollars and called themselves the New School Baptist church.  George W. Thomas helped erect a wooden, steepled church which was renamed Neabsco Baptist Church.  The building was used also to educate children of former slaves and free persons of color.  This church has undergone two renovations.  Hand-hewn timbers below the flooring of the present church are silent reminders of the toll of many persons who held a dream during troubled times.”

While I was there I also ventured behind the church where the church’s historic cemetery is located.  There are headstones there that are so old that the names and dates are worn away.  The cemetery also proudly has the grave of a World War I veteran, Owen Thomas, whose family members still attend the church.

Neabsco Baptist Church has undergone many changes throughout its history and is about to undergo another major change.  On six acres of recently-purchased land adjacent to the existing church building they are curretly building a new and much larger sanctuary to accommodate its growing and dynamic congregation.  Even with its long history it’s pastor, Pastor Joshua Speights, Jr., feels some of the best days for the church are still ahead.  So it appears that the 156 year-old church will continue to make history well into the future.

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

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The Rock Creek Church Yard

I used a little vacation time at work this morning and went on an longer than usual bike ride for today’s lunchbreak.  I rode to D.C.’s Rock Creek Church Yard, also known as Rock Creek Cemetery, located at 201 Allison Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Brightwood Park neighborhood.  I’ve been there once before during my lunchtime bike rides, but it is a quite large cemetery and I wanted to go back when I would be able to take more time to explore and not have to rush to get back to my office. 

The cemetery was first established in 1719, on the grounds of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Rock Creek Parish, making the pre-Revolutionary War cemetery, as well as the church, the oldest in the city.  But I will explore the church and more of the cemetery’s history on another ride and in another blog post.  On today’s ride I went to explore the 84-acre grounds in search of some the statuary and unusual gravestones for which the cemetery in renowned.

There are a number of notable interments in the cemetery, including a signer of the Constitution, Senators, Congressman, presidential cabinet secretaries, a Supreme Court Justice, ambassadors and diplomats, mayors, military officers, Medal of Honor recipients, prominent businessmen, college professors, and even a former KGB Agent and defector from the Soviet Union.  But the statuary is often marking the graves of lesser known individuals whose stories are either known only by their families, or lost to time.   

Each of the cemetery’s statues and grave makers are unique in design.  In the following photos I attempted to capture some of the unusual and interesting ones that are prevalent throughout the cemetery.  Depending on their age, many are worn and weathered.  But those aspects of the monuments only add to their aesthetics.  I took the photos in black and white because to a varying degree it helped bring out the lines and shadows of the statues and markers.  And it just seemed appropriate.  Be sure to click on the photos to view the full-size versions, and then zoom in to see some of the intricacies and details of each.

My visit to the Rock Creek Church Yard ended up being an interesting and thought-provoking time, and I got in a 25-mile bike ride too.  It was a great mini vacation during the middle of a workweek.  But there’s so much more there to see and experience, I’m sure I’ll be going back again soon.

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

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In addition to the individual graves of those buried in Arlington National Cemetery, there are also a number of monuments and memorials.  The most well-known of which is the iconic Tomb of the Unknowns. But there are also dozens of other monuments and memorials to a variety of people, groups and events interspersed throughout the cemetery’s 624 acres. And on this lunchtime bike ride, I sought out and found the memorial to the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia.

The Space Shuttle Columbia was the first orbiter in NASA’s Space Shuttle fleet.  It launched for the first flight of the Space Shuttle Program on April 12, 1981, and provided over 22 years of service, successfully completing 27 missions before tragedy struck on February 1, 2003.

Near the end of its 28th mission, as it was travelling at a rate of approximately 8,000 miles per hour, the Columbia disintegrated as it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere.  This created a debris field which encompassed hundreds of miles across Northeast Texas and into Louisiana.  The orbitor’s disintegration resulted in the deaths of all seven crew members aboard, whose remains were found along with the the nose cap in Sabine County, Texas.  The crew members killed on its final mission were: Rick Husband, the Commander; William C. McCool, the Pilot; Michael P. Anderson, Payload Commander/Mission Specialist 3; David M. Brown, Mission Specialist 1; Kalpana Chawla, Mission Specialist 2; Laurel Clark, Mission Specialist 4; and Ilan Ramon, Payload Specialist 1.   Nearly 84,000 pieces of debris from the orbitor were also found.  They are stored in the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center.

Less than two months after the disaster, President George W. Bush signed into law the “Emergency Wartime Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2003”. The “Columbia Orbiter Memorial Act” is contained in that supplemental appropriations act, which is now known as Public Law Number 108-11.  The Law authorized the Secretary of the Army, in consultation with NASA, to place the memorial in Arlington National Cemetery. NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe, accompanied by over 400 family members, former astronauts, and friends dedicated the memorial on February 2, 2004.

I found the memorial by using a new app I recently downloaded to my phone.  It is called ANC Explorer, and it’s a free app available for download for both iPhone and Android smartphones.  ANC Explorer can also be launched using a traditional computer, and accessed at the cemetery using the free WiFi available at the Welcome Center and Administration Building.  The app is also available for public use on computer kiosks at the cemetery.

ANC Ecxplorer allows users to locate gravesites and other points of interest throughout the cemetery by providing step-by-step directions to these locations.  The app also allows users to view and save front-and-back photos of a marker or monument.  Further, the app provides emergency and event notifications, self-guided tours, and the ability to share your experiences and photos on popular social media sites. Users can also save favorite places in the new “My Content” feature to create their own custom walking tours.

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A September 11th Memorial Grove

On today’s lunchtime bike ride I chose to ride to a local September 11th memorial.  On past anniversaries of the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon, the World Trade Center in New York, and United Flight 93 which crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, I have observed the occasion by riding to memorials to those killed on that day.  I have been to the National 9/11 Memorial at the Pentagon, as well as The Victims of the Terrorist Attack on The Pentagon Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.  But the anniversary this year falls on a weekend.  So on today’s ride to end the workweek I rode to one of a number of local memorials here in D.C. – the September 11th Memorial Grove, located in Historic Congressional Cemetery (MAP).

Within the cemetery, the grove is configured as an alley, originating across from the gravesite of John Phillip Sousa and continuing southward down a hill to the far edge of the cemetery near the Anacostia River. Because the Sousa grave is the most visited area of the cemetery, the grove draws people in and leads them on a short walk through the memorial site.

The purpose of the memorial at Congressional Cemetery is threefold. First, as a cemetery, it was a logical place to memorialize. And the trees were especially fitting for the cemetery, fitting into its memorial tradition of the use of cenotaphs, or empty tombs. The second reason is because the memorial helps in creating a renewed awareness of the cemetery, to bring more people onto the site, thus continuing the tradition of a cemetery as a gathering space. The third reason for placing the memorial grove within the cemetery was to be part of a landscape plan to re-tree the cemetery.

At the entrance to the grove is a maker containing a poem entitled, “Remembrance”.  It reads,

“For those who no longer hear noisy leaves
shimmering in the summer breeze …
For those who might have sought shelter from the
mid-day sun under a nave of gnarled hornbeams …
For those who would grieve in the quiet space
amid a grove of flowering trees …
For those who perished on September 11, 2001.”

The September 11th Memorial Grove at the cemetery is the first of a series of nine memorial groves planned for the city, with one central and eight ward-based neighborhood memorial tree groves created both to remember September 11 and to celebrate the community that surrounds it.  So I guess I know where I can go on the next eight anniversaries of that terrible day.

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

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Paul Raymond Tully’s Grave Marker

Earlier this year an obituary for the late Mary Anne Noland of Richmond, Virginia, was published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper. It stated, “Faced with the prospect of voting for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, Mary Anne Noland of Richmond chose, instead, to pass into the eternal love of God on Sunday, May 15, 2016, at the age of 68.” And Noland’s obituary is not unique.  For example, an obituary for Ernest Overbey Jr., also of Richmond, ended with a request to “please vote for Donald Trump.” Similarly, the obituary for Katherine Michael Hinds, of Auburn, Alabama, suggested that “in lieu of flowers, do not vote for Donald Trump.”

Politics being important to someone, even after their death, is also not unique to the current election cycle. This became evident to me on a recent bike ride to Rock Creek Cemetery, located at 201 Allison Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Michigan Park neighborhood. There I saw the unusual grave marker for someone named Paul Raymond Tully. Aside from his name, and the dates of his birth and death, it simply read, “A Democrat.” This, combined with the appearance of the grave marker itself, compelled me to want to look into who he was, and why instead of sentiments like “Loving Husband” or “Devoted Father” or “Faithful Friend”, he was simply described by his political party affiliation.

Tully was born on May 14, 1944, in New York City, the son of working-class parents. He graduated from Yale and received a law degree at the University of Pennsylvania. But he then chose a career in politics rather than the law.  However, he did not run for office himself.  Nor was he the type of man who would eventually take some cushy political appointment in a Democratic administration. His lifelong work involved the political process, and getting a democrat elected president. Obsessed for more than two decades, he pursued this goal, thinking only a Democratic president could do the things he thought were needed to establish equity in American society.

Tully was only 48 years old when he died on September 24, 1992, in a hotel in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he had just moved.  The coroner stated that he appeared to have died of natural causes, speculating that it was most likely a heart attack or stroke.  However, it is officially listed as unknown causes because no autopsy was allowed.

At the time of his death Tully was Director of Political Operations for the Democratic National Committee. With his roots in the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, he had been closely associated with some of its most prominent figures, including Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, and Senators Gary Hart of Colorado, Walter F. Mondale of Minnesota and George McGovern of South Dakota, as well as former governor Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts. One of his party’s pre-eminent strategists, Tully had worked in every presidential campaign since 1968. And you may have already deduced from the place and timing of his death, at the time of died he was also key aide in the presidential campaign of Governor Bill Clinton.

The bronze memorial sculpture which serves as Tully’s headstone was designed by his eldest daughter, Jessica Tully. She created the nearly four and a half foot tall bronze and granite memorial, and worked with the Del Sol Foundry in California to cast and assemble the project. It consists of three elements. First, a representation of the wooden work chair from his home. On the chair is a folded copy of the New York Times from November 4, 1992, announcing the election of President Clinton. Lastly, there are two of his ubiquitous coffee cups, one for him and the other for whomever he would have been talking with, usually but not always about politics. The sculpture was not completed until more than a decade after his passing, and was unveiled at event on May 3, 2014, near what would have been his 70th birthday.

When I first saw it I just knew there would be an interesting story behind this unusual grave marker.  And I was right.  And after learning about the man, I can’t help but wonder what he would think of the current election.

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

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Headstone for Tip O’Neil

On my visit to Historic Congressional Cemetery during this bike ride, I happened upon a headstone for someone I knew of and remember, but didn’t know was honored at the cemetery – Tip O’Neill.  Located at 1801 E Street (MAP), in the southeast portion of D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, the cemetery got its name when in 1830 the United States Congress appropriated money for improvements, built cenotaphs to honor representatives who had died in office, and purchased several hundred burial sites to be used for members of Congress.  Although the cemetery itself is privately owned, the U.S. government owns 806 burial plots.  This includes many members of Congress who died while Congress was in session.  And I now know that Tip O’Neill is honored there among them.

Thomas Phillip “Tip” O’Neill Jr. was born, raised, and lived out almost all of his life as a resident of North Cambridge, Massachusetts.  It was also in North Cambridge where he got his start in politics. He first became active in politics at the age of 15, when he campaigned for Al Smith in the 1928 presidential election. Four years later, he helped campaign for Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Then, as a senior at Boston College, O’Neill ran for a seat on the Cambridge City Council. It was his first race, and his first and only electoral defeat. But the campaign taught him a valuable lesson that would later become his best-known quote: “All politics is local.” O’Neill’s first electoral victory came shortly after he graduated from college, when he was elected at the age of 24 to the Massachusetts House of Representatives. From there he would go on to become the first Democratic Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives in its history. He remained in that position until 1952, when he ran for the United States House of Representatives from his home district, and was elected to the congressional seat vacated by Senator-elect John F. Kennedy.

O’Neill became a very outspoken liberal Democrat and influential member of the House of Representatives. He would be reelected 16 more times, and served for 34 years. In 1977, O’Neill was elected the Speaker of the House of Representatives. He served as Speaker until his retirement a decade later, making him the only Speaker to serve for five complete consecutive Congresses, and the one of the longest-serving Speakers in U.S. history.

One of the first things that comes to my mind when remembering Tip O’Neill, particularly during the time near the end of his career, was that it was a time when politics and governing was not the animosity-filled, adversarial process that it is today. Republicans and Democrats could have differing opinions and significantly different political philosophies, but at the end of the day they were congenial, and even friendly with each other. And no two people exemplified this type of relationship better than Tip O’Neill and the President at that time, Ronald Reagan. Despite O’Neill being described by his official biographer, John Aloysius Farrell, as an “absolute, unrepentant, unreconstructed New Deal Democrat,” O’Neill was able to have a friendly relationship with a President who rehabilitated conservatism, led the modern conservative movement, and turned the nation to the right. O’Neill and Reagan vehemently disagreed on almost everything, yet were known to occasionally have a beer together at the end of the day, or get together along with their spouses for dinner.

As I stood at the headstone and thought of those bygone days, I couldn’t help but lament the decline in the civility of the current political process in this country.  I find it impossible to imagine Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, along with Melania Trump and former President Bill Clinton, ever choosing to get together socially today.  I miss the days when politicians and people could disagree with each other, yet still respect the other person and their opinion.  And I think Tip O’Neill would feel the same way.

UPDATE:  I later learned that the maker in Congressional Cemetery is actually a cenotaph, not a headstone.  A cenotaph is a monument built to honor a person or people whose remains are interred elsewhere or whose remains cannot be recovered.  Tip O’Neill is buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Harwich Port, Massachusetts.

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The Empty Grave of Frank Kameny

On today’s lunchtime bike ride I stopped by Historic Congressional Cemetery, located at 1801 E Street (MAP) in southeast D.C.’s Barney Circle neighborhood, where I visited the gravesite of Frank Kameny. Known as “one of the most significant figures” in the American gay rights movement,” Kameny’s lived an impactful public life. But as was suggested by the title of this blog post, his story doesn’t end there.

Franklin Edward Kameny was born on May 21, 1925 to Ashkenazi Jewish parents in New York City. He grew up in New York City and graduated from high school at the age of 16, and went on to college to study physics. Before he could complete his education he was drafted into the U.S. Army and served in the European theater throughout World War II. After being honorably discharged from the service, he returned to college and earned a degree in physics in 1948. He then went on to enroll in Harvard, where he studied astronomy and earned a master’s degree in 1949, and doctorate in 1956.

After a year teaching at Georgetown University, he obtained a civil service job as an astronomer with the U.S. Army Map Service in July of 1957. It wasn’t long afterward that an investigator from the U.S. Civil Service Commission came to question him about reports that he was a homosexual. That fall, only a few months after being hired, he was fired for being gay.  And in January of 1958, he was barred forever from Federal government employment. Kameny formally appealed his firing, first through formal channels, then all the way to the House and Senate Civil Service Committees, and President Dwight D. Eisenhower.  After not prevailing through those channels, he filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court to get his job back. But he lost that too, as well as a subsequent appeal in the Federal Court of Appeals. Then after being abandoned by his lawyer who declared his cause hopeless, Kameny personally brought and represented himself in a landmark albeit unsuccessful appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Although he lost the case, the proceeding was notable as the first known civil rights claim based on sexual orientation pursued in a U.S. court.

For the vast majority of people during that time, homosexuality was seen as abhorrent, sinful, and criminal. Even most homosexuals thought so too. So there were not any gay rights organizations in D.C. for Kameny to turn to. So in a move that would begin a lifelong role as an organizer and an advocate, Kameny decided to start one of his own. He was a cofounder of the Mattachine Society of Washington, and later the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, and the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the National Gay Task Force, and the National Gay Rights Lobby, which was the first national political lobbying organization for the gay and lesbian community. He also led the first gay rights protests at the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department, the Civil Service Commission, and at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. He would also become the first openly gay person to run for Congress, help lobby the American Psychiatric Association to declassify homosexuality as a mental illness, create the first test case against the military ban on gay service by Air Force Sgt. Leonard Matlovich, and be appointed a Commissioner of the D.C. Commission on Human Rights, thereby becoming the first gay municipal appointee.

In 2007, Kameny’s death was mistakenly reported by The Advocate, an American LGBT-interest magazine, alongside a mistaken report that he had HIV. The report was retracted with an apology. A little over four years later Kameny died from natural causes due to arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease.  He died on October, 11, 2011, coinciding with National Coming Out Day, an annual awareness day pertaining to the voluntary self-disclosure of one’s sexual orientation.  His body was subsequently cremated, and Timothy Clark, his legal heir, took possession of the ashes. Because Clark and the Kameny estate lacked the financial means, a burial plot was purchased by a LGBT charitable group named Helping Our Brothers and Sisters. But Clark would not allow the interment of the ashes to take place until ownership of the cemetery plot was signed over to the estate. And after years of fighting between the Kameny family, friends, and Clark, his ashes have still not been interred in the plot. However, the headstone, along with a footstone bearing the slogan, “Gay is Good,” which Kameny coined in 1968, were placed at the plot last year. Clark subsequently interred the ashes at an undisclosed location, and has asked the public to respect “his wishes and his privacy.”

The area of the cemetery where the Kameny memorial headstone is located has in recent years become somewhat of a tourist attraction, particularly to those in the LGBT community.  Kameny’s plot is located right behind that of Leonard Matlovich, as well as the nearby gravesites of J. Edgar Hoover and Clyde Tolson.  A growing number of other out gays, including veterans and couples, have also chosen to be buried in the same once obscure graveyard such as gay rights pioneers Randy Wicker, Barbara Gittings and Kay Lahusen.  Also, members of American Veterans for Equal Rights have purchased eight nearby adjoining plots to create a LGBT veterans memorial.

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Flags In

On today’s lunchtime bike ride I rode to Arlington National Cemetery, (MAP) where I was fortunate enough to observe the annual tradition known as “Flags In.”  The tradition, which is carried out by the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment whose nickname is “The Old Guard,” provides a moment to pause and honor our fallen heroes, and marks the beginning of Memorial Day weekend activities at the same cemetery that hosted the first national Memorial Day commemoration on May 30, 1868.

The tradition began in 1948, when The Old Guard, which has the distinction of being the oldest active unit in the United States Army dating back to 1784, was first designated as the Army’s official ceremonial unit.  Every available soldier in the regiment participates in the tradition, which consists of placing small American flags in front of each headstone, and at the bottom of each niche row, throughout the 624 acres of rolling hills in the cemetery.  Lasting approximately four hours, approximately a thousand soldiers place almost a half a million flags.  Flags are placed in front of more than 228,000 headstones, and at the bottom of about 7,000 niche rows in the cemetery’s Columbarium Courts and the Niche Wall.  Also during Flags In, Army Chaplains place flags in front of the memorials and headstones located on Chaplain’s Hill, and Tomb Sentinels place flags at the gravesites of the unknown interred at the Tomb of the Unknowns.  The Old Guard also places approximately 14,000 flags at the National cemetery located at the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home in northwest D.C.  All of the flags are then removed after Memorial Day, before the cemeteries open to the public.

So on this holiday weekend as you are having a cookout or heading out to a sale at a department store or mall, don’t forget to take some time to think about the real reason for this holiday – to remember and honor the people who died while serving in our country’s armed forces. Whether they were famous and known to you, or will forever remain anonymous except to their families and comrades at arms, each one deserves to be remembered and honored, not only on Memorial Day but every day.

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National Medal of Honor Day

Today is National Medal of Honor Day. Designated by the United States Congress in 1990, it is observed annually on March 25th, and is dedicated to all recipients of this country’s highest military honor. The Medal of Honor, occasionally referred to as the Congressional Medal of Honor, is awarded for personal acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty, and is awarded to U.S. military personnel only. Awarded by the President in the name of the U.S. Congress, there are three versions of the medal, one for the Army, one for the Navy, and one for the Air Force.  Members of the Marine Corps and Coast Guard receive the Navy version.

In recognition of today’s designation, I rode to Arlington National Cemetery on this lunchtime bike ride to visit the gravesite of not only one of the most famous recipients of the Medal of Honor, but also one of the most decorated combat soldiers in American history – U.S. Army First Lieutenant Audie Murphy.

Audie Leon Murphy was born was born on June 20, 1925, the seventh of twelve children born to Emmett Berry Murphy and his wife Josie Bell Killian, a sharecropper family in Kingston, Texas. After his father deserted the family when Murphy was in the fifth grade, he dropped out of school and got a job picking cotton for a dollar a day to help support the family. He also hunted small game to help feed them, which caused him to become very proficient with a rifle. When Murphy was 16 years old, his mother passed away, and he was forced to watch as his brothers and sisters were doled out to an orphanage or to relatives.

Murphy had always wanted to be in the military, and after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, he tried to enlist. However, the military turned him down for being underage. Eventually his sister provided an affidavit falsifying when he was born. He applied to the Marine Corps, but was told that at 5’-5” tall he was too short, and underweight as well, weighing in at only 110 pounds.  He was just too small.   However, Murphy was finally accepted by the Army at the end of June in 1942.

Murphy was awarded the Medal of Honor for single-handedly holding off an entire company of German soldiers for an hour at the Colmar Pocket in France in January 1945. He then led a successful counterattack while wounded and out of ammunition. He was only 19 years old at the time. By the time the war came to an end, Murphy had gone on to become America’s most-decorated soldier, earning an unparalleled 28 medals. In fact, he received every military combat award for valor available from the U.S. Army, as well as medals for heroism from both France and Belgium. Murphy had been wounded three times during the war, yet, in May 1945, when victory was declared in Europe, he had still not reached his 21st birthday.

Murphy returned to a hero’s welcome in the United States, with parades, banquets, and speeches. He was then persuaded by actor James Cagney to embark on an acting career. Murphy arrived in Hollywood with, by his own account, no talent.  Nevertheless, he went on to make more than 40 films. He also published a novel of his wartime memoirs, entitled To Hell and Back, and went on to portray himself in the 1955 movie version of the book.  Honored in civilian life like he was in the military, Murphy has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

After eventually retiring from acting, he began a career in private business. But the venture was unsuccessful, and in 1968 he was forced into bankruptcy. A few years later, Murphy died in a private plane crash near Roanoke, Virginia on May 28, 1971, at the age of 46.

Audie Murphy was buried with full military honors in Section 46 of Arlington National Cemetery, just across Memorial Drive west of the Memorial Amphitheater. A flagstone walkway has been constructed to accommodate the large number of people who stop to pay their respects to this hero. At the end of a row of graves, his tomb is marked by a simple, white, government-issue tombstone, which lists only a few of his many military decorations.  Also, the headstones of Medal of Honor recipients buried at Arlington National are normally decorated in gold leaf.  But at Murphy’s request, his stone remain plain and inconspicuous, like that of an ordinary soldier.  The stone is considered by some to be the same as he was considered by the Marine Corps, too small.

Arlington National Cemetery is also the final resting place of 407 other Medal of Honor recipients, which includes the Medals of Honor awarded to the World War I Unknown, World War II Unknown, Korean War Unknown and Vietnam War Unknown buried at The Tomb of the Unknowns. The Vietnam War unknown was disinterred in 1998 and identified as Air Force Lt. Michael Blassie, but the medal remains at Arlington National. The last Medal of Honor recipient to be buried at Arlington National was Army Lieutenant Colonel Don C. Faith, who died during the Korean War. His remains were not recovered until 2012, and he was interred at the cemetery April 17, 2013.

So on this National Medal of Honor Day, take a moment to think about the 3,497 military members who have received the award.  And if you run into any of the 78 recipients of the award who are currently alive, be sure to thank them.