It is critical to the nation’s moral fabric to revere those who sacrificed their lives to preserve the values that have sustained America. Sometimes it’s hard to separate what has made the United States a magnificent nation from the noise of a woke generation with no contributions worth noting. The irony is clear: Moral men and women gave their lives to ensure the little voices of those who wish to tear down the public forum that grants license so their raving might exist. Memorial Day allows our good citizens to affirm the gift of freedom so generously given at the cost of everything our benefactors had to give.
Memorial Day brings to mind parades, brass bands, and American flags. More solemn visions include cemeteries with flowers and miniature Stars and Stripes gracing the green grass. No cemetery is more archetypical on the day set aside to honor fallen service men and women than Arlington National Cemetery. Many people know of the grounds because that’s where the Marine Corps Iwo Jima Memorial stands as a remembrance of the horrors and bravery of World War II in the Pacific. But in America’s history, the national cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, wasn’t always a cemetery.
Arlington National Cemetery: A Memorial Day Icon
According to the “History of Arlington National Cemetery,” the land was once in the family of America’s first president George Washington. George’s adopted grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, established the Arlington Estate as a tribute to the first president. The land became a family matter when the daughter of Custis, Mary, married US Army First Lieutenant Robert E. Lee. When Custis died, Mary Custis Lee inherited the estate and willed the land to her first-born son. However, the Lee family left the estate at the beginning of the Civil War, and the US Army seized the property on the morning of May 24, 1861, as a high ground from which the Union forces could better defend Washington, DC.
The first military burial took place in May 1864. Private William Christman was buried on the Arlington property when the Union Army quartermaster Brigadier General Montgomery Meigs “ordered Arlington Estate used for a cemetery.” Today Arlington National Cemetery occupies the equivalent of one square mile, with more than 400,000 fallen service members, veterans, and family members. Two US presidents, William Howard Taft, and John F. Kennedy, are buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a well-known memorial in the cemetery. Now referred to as the Tomb of the Unknowns, the memorial was originally dedicated to an unidentified World War I soldier on November 11, 1921, by then-President Warren G. Harding. The inscription on the marble sarcophagus, “Here Rests in Honored Glory an American Soldier Known But to God,” was completed later in 1932. Unknown soldiers’ remains from World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam joined the original unknowns over the years.
As forensic identification improved, in 1998, the remains from the Vietnam War were identified as US Air Force First Lieutenant Michael Joseph Blassie, who was killed flying close air support for defenders of the town of An Loc, South Vietnam, in 1972. Those who saw Blassie go down recall his A-37 fighter being hit by ground fire from 37mm anti-aircraft guns on a low pass engaging North Vietnam regular soldiers. There was no parachute, emergency beeper, or indication that Blassie survived. Mike’s remains now rest in his hometown of St. Louis, MO. The crypt for the Vietnam War unknown is empty.
Since “Only the dead have seen the end of war,” attributed most often to Plato, the planned expansion of Arlington National Cemetery beginning in 2014 added 27 acres, or room for 30,000 more burial plots. Estimates conclude with as many as 30 military service members and authorized family members being buried at Arlington daily, the available internment room will reach its limit by 2040.
Memorial Day Flower Shortage Averted
Each Memorial Day, the graves at Arlington National Cemetery are traditionally honored with flowers. However, this year saw a scare there wouldn’t be enough floral arrangements, as there was a sudden shortage of flower donations. The danger of not having enough was averted when The Memorial Day Flowers Foundation put out the word that the foundation had only 10% of the typical corporate sponsorship funds required to honor the fallen properly. “But since the group raised the alarm, cash donations have risen to 50% of what it says it needs for the Memorial Day weekend, and the organization now has more than 200,000 flowers pledged,” Adrian Bonenberger wrote for Military.com.
As Americans take a moment of silence for our bravest who “gave the last full measure of devotion” at 3:00 p.m. on Memorial Day, it is a simple act of well-deserved remembrance. Most Americans have the personal character and patriotic integrity to cut through the noise of those who don’t. It’s the day of days. It’s Memorial Day.
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