Sunday, May 20, 2007

"The Nation's Cemetery"

The June 2007 issue of National Geographic is not one to be missed. The issue has a full, black and white, three page spread of Arlington National Cemetery as well as numerous other gorgeous photographs of the Nation's cemetery and a beautiful article by Rick Atkinson.

This past Friday on Jeopardy! there was an entire category dedicated to the men (and women) buried at Arlington National Cemetery including William Howard Taft, a man I've come to greatly admire. It didn't occur to me until this morning that perhaps the producers of Jeopardy! placed the category in Friday's show to correspond with the latest issue of National Geographic.
Something in the Atkinson article stuck out to me and wasn't something I had ever thought about before. Every day at Arlington the grounds staff has a list of the funerals scheduled. The listing for each person includes their name, military rank, and next of kin. In all the time I've studied Kennedy and as many times as I've watched the clips of his burial at Arlington, I'd never known or thought about that sheet of paper with the list of funerals scheduled for November 25, 1963. Atkinson adds the schedule entry to his article:

John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Cdr. in Chief. NOK: Jqcqueline Kennedy, widow.

I wasn't alive when Kennedy was killed. I wasn't there when they buried him in Arlington. I've watched the films, read nearly everything there is to read on the funeral, and yet as I read that entry I got choked up. How heartbreaking. The nation mourned the loss of their leader, a wife mourned the loss of her husband, and they didn't even spell her name right nor did they mention that Kennedy had been a war hero, a veteran of the United States Navy. I had never given thought to the concept of what those groundskeepers must have felt as they prepared to bury the President of the United States, they too in mourning, they too in shock.

The article is accompanied by a map of the cemetery including the choreography of the hours. The map reminded me that Medgar Evers is buried at Arlington, not far from Taft and General Omar Bradley. I remember reading the book by Evers' wife, but I'd forgotten the portion that discussed his burial. The article discusses in detail the history of the cemetery, small anecdotes of the cemetery before it was thrust into the light and status of a national icon, a status that undoubtedly came with the Kennedy burial. And yet in all its glory and aura of heroism, the article reminds you of the cemetery's simplicity--the uniformity of the headstones and something I was reminded of, the one simple cross marking where Senator Bobby Kennedy was laid to rest.

There are few places in the world that are as somber as Arlington and the article does that fact justice.

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