Posts Tagged ‘Tomb of the Unknowns’

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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.

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'Twas the Last Ride Before Christmas

‘Twas the Last Ride Before Christmas

I’m going to be taking some time off from work for the holidays, so this was my last D.C. bike ride for the year for this blog. I’m actually taking the next few weeks off because, as a Federal employee, if I do not use a specified amount of my accrued vacation time before the end of the year the government will take it away. But for this ride, I commuted to the office anyway. I then got on one of my bikes that I keep in the parking garage of the office building where I work, and spent the entire day just riding around the D.C. area to see and enjoy the Christmas decorations and holiday spirit, which can be found almost everywhere.  It was a great ride to end the year.

As I’ve stated previously in this blog, I am not a photographer. I’m just a guy that goes for bike rides on my lunch break at work, and takes a few snapshots of the places I go to and the things I see along the way. On this ride I took more photos than usual. My favorite photo (above) from this leisurely bike ride is the one of a Christmas tree and holiday wreath left at The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, with the image of both my bike and The Washington Monument reflecting off the polished granite panels containing the names of the servicemen and women who were killed or classified as missing in action during the Vietnam War. The photo seems to portray at the same time both the joy of the season as well as the solemnity of the memorial.

Some of the other photos (below) which I’ve included with this blog post show several of the places which I have already visited this year and then wrote about in this blog, as well as some other places I intend to visit again and learn more about in the coming year.  You can click on the thumbnails for full-size photos.

In order, these photos show: (1) Giant wreathes hanging at the front of Union Station in D.C., one of the busiest train stations in the country. You can get a sense of the size of the wreathes by comparing them to the size of the people standing beneath them. (2) Toy soldiers standing guard at the entrance to the Old Ebbit Grill on 15th Street, D.C.’s oldest bar and restaurant. (3) Holiday wreathes on the old Sun Trust Building on 15th Street, across the street from the U.S. Treasury Department Building. (4) Holiday garlands, wreathes and bows adorning the entrance to The Historic Willard Hotel. (5) The D.C. Fire Department’s Truck No. 3 Fire Station on 13th Street in northwest D.C., which is decorated and lit up with Christmas lights. (6) The Vietnam Women’s Memorial is one of the memorials where wreathes are laid by Wreathes Across America, the group that supplies the Christmas wreathes at Arlington National Cemetery. (7) The Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, with a tomb guard in the foreground “walking the mat.” The wreathes in front of the sarcophagus and graves are also part of the tribute at the cemetery by Wreathes Across America. (8) Some of the more than 230,000 wreathes at Arlington National Cemetery which adorn the rows of white marble headstones. (9) Wreathes were also placed by Wreathes Across America at gravesites at The John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame. (10) The Woodrow Wilson House, the home of the only President to remain in D.C. after leaving office, is also decorated for the holidays. (11) One of the several outdoor holiday markets that spring up throughout the city in the time leading up to Christmas. This one is The Downtown Holiday Market, which is currently in its 11th year.  (12)  If you’re fortunate, you can also happen upon live musiccal performances.  This one was taking place on the sidewalk in front of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery between 7th and 9th Streets in the city’s Chinatown neighborhood.  (13) The Krispy Kreme doughnut shop across from The Fountain at DuPont Circle is an excellent place to stop for an early morning snack when riding around the city to see the holiday decorations, especially when the “Hot Now” neon light is lit up.  And even they decorated for the season. (14) An outdoor craft show and flea market on Capitol Hill. (15) A Christmas tree stand at Eastern Market selling fresh-cut Christmas trees. (16) The White House gates included decorative bows for the holidays. (17) The National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse at President’s Park just south of the White House. (18) The Capitol Christmas Tree on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building grounds. (19) Festively decorated Christmas trees, like this one, could be seen in the windows of stores and office buildings on almost every block.  (20) And the final photo is of a bike-themed ornament that I saw on the Capitol Christmas Tree, which seemed too relevant to not be included in this blog post.

I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all of you reading this, whether you are here in D.C. and anywhere else around the world, a very Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year.

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Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution

On this bike ride I went to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. However, I did not ride to the widely-known memorial at Arlington National Cemetery which holds the unidentified remains of soldiers from World War I, World War II, and the Korean and Vietnam Wars. I rode to the one located in a cemetery in Alexandria, Virginia, which holds the remains of an unknown soldier of the American Revolution. Unknown to most tourists and even longtime area residents, the Revolutionary soldier’s gravesite is the original Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

It is not included in Alexandria’s official walking-tour guide handed out at the city’s visitor center. Washington tourism materials don’t give it much regard, and the tomb is mentioned only briefly, if at all, in any guidebooks written about the area. Tucked away in the corner of the burial ground and backed up against a wall of an adjacent building, it can be difficult to locate even if you know where to look. I was fortunate to just accidently happen upon it when I was riding around and exploring.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution is located in a small burial ground behind the Old Presbyterian Meeting House, which is located at 323 South Fairfax Street (MAP) in the Old Town district of the city of Alexandria.  In addition to the unidentified soldier who is honored by the tomb, the burial ground, which was founded in 1775, is the final resting place of approximately 300 persons, including many other patriots of the Revolutionary War.

The remains entombed in the Alexandria memorial were unearthed during an 1821 construction project when workers dug a foundation for a Catholic chapel behind the Old Presbyterian Meeting House and found an unmarked grave with an ammunition box serving as a coffin. The uniform identified the soldier as from Revolutionary War and uniform adornments indicated he was from Kentucky. The remains were reinterred at their present location behind the meeting house on January 21, 1821, more than 100 years prior to the dedication of Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknowns, which took place on November 11, 1921.

The tabletop epitaph on top of the marble marker for the Tomb has faded with time, but is still legible. The inscription is remarkably similar to the inscription on the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National, and reads, “Here lies a soldier of the Revolution whose identity is known but to God.” The inscription at the memorial in Arlington reads, “Here reset in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.” An additional inscription on a plaque in front of the memorial, similar to that found on the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington, reads, “In Memory of an Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution. Erected by the National Society Children of the American Revolution. April 10, 1929. Temporary Marker Place by American Legion Post No. 21, Alexandria Virginia February 22, 1928.”

The Old Presbyterian Meeting House, which is the caretaker for burial ground where the tomb is located reports that, on average, only handful of people per day pick up the pamphlet explaining the memorial. This does not compare with the approximately 11,000 people who enter Arlington National Cemetery each day to view the Tomb of the Unknowns. Also, there are no guards before the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier. Rather, only a small wrought-iron fence surrounds the gravesite. This stands in stark contrast to the Sentinels at the Tomb of the Unknowns, who stand guard while “walking the mat” in perfectly measured steps.   However, despite the fact that the small marble Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution cannot compete in regard to size, the number of visitors, or the grandeur of the Tomb of the Unknowns or the other giant memorials, statues and monuments throughout the national capitol area, it ranks right up there with all of them in terms of history and meaning.

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Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery

On this day in 1862, United States National Cemeteries were authorized by the Federal government. “United States national cemetery” is a designation for 146 nationally important cemeteries, which are generally military cemeteries containing the graves of U.S. military personnel, veterans and their spouses, but not exclusively so. Some national cemeteries, especially Arlington National Cemetery, contain the graves of important civilian leaders, to include U.S. Presidents, as well as other important national figures. Some national cemeteries, including Arlington, also contain sections for Confederate soldiers. More than 3,800 former slaves, called “Contrabands” during the Civil War, are also buried at Arlington National, with the designation “Civilian” or “Citizen” on their headstones. In addition to national cemeteries there are also state veteran cemeteries.

In observance of this, on this bike ride I went to Arlington National Cemetery, which is located in Arlington County, Virginia (MAP), directly across the Potomac River from The Lincoln Memorial . Arlington National is a U.S. military cemetery beneath whose 624 acres have been laid more than 400,000 casualties, and deceased veterans, of the nation’s conflicts beginning with the American Civil War. Arlington National also contains the reinterred dead from earlier wars, making it the only national cemetery to hold servicemen from every war in U.S. history.

The cemetery was established during the Civil War on the grounds of Arlington House, also known as Custis-Lee Mansion, which had been the estate of the family of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his wife Mary Anna Custis Lee, who was also a great-granddaughter of Martha Washington.  The Lees had lived there for over thirty years prior to the outbreak of the Civil War.  The government seized the property in 1864 as part of a dispute over a $92.07 tax bill, and began to use the property as a cemetery.  In 1882, almost twenty years later and more than a decade after Lee’s death, the Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. government had seized his estate without due process and ordered it returned to his family in the same condition as when it was illegally confiscated. If followed, the ruling could have required the exhumation of all of Arlington’s dead, which at that time was approximately 17,000.  Instead, the Lee family officially sold the property to Congress for $150,000 the following year.

Arlington National Cemetery also houses a number of other memorials on its grounds, including the Tomb of the Unknowns, in honor of those who lay unidentified on the battlefields of freedom. Additional memorials at the cemetery include: the USS Maine Mast Memorial; the Spanish-American War Nurses Memorial; Chaplains Hill, which includes monuments to Jewish, Protestant, and Roman Catholic military chaplains; the Confederate Memorial dedicated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy; the Eternal Flame marking President John F. Kennedy’s grave; the Lockerbie Cairn Memorial to the 270 killed in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland; the Space Shuttle Challenger and the Space Shuttle Columbia Memorials, as well as; a section of burial ground for military personnel killed in the Global War on Terror.

It is listed as the Arlington National Cemetery Historic District  on the National Register of Historic Places.  But despite its rich history, it is important to remember that Arlington National Cemetery is still an active cemetery.  It averages about 5,000 funerals each year.  Funerals are normally conducted six days a week, Monday through Saturday. Arlington averages 27 to 30 funerals, including interments and inurnments, each and every weekday.  And six to eight services on Saturdays.  It is for this reason that the flags on the cemetery grounds are flown at half-staff from a half hour before the first funeral until a half hour after the last funeral each day.

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