Washington DC has a lot of history, and style. I’ve lived in the DC area for quite some time now and I’ll admit, I’ve never much paid attention to most of it. Especially the Cherry Blossom festival and festivities surrounding the pink and white trees from Japan. I’ve even worked on the National Mall and never cared to take a break from my desk and walk outside and look at said trees, most likely because I’m not a fan of pushing my way through wandering tourists walking aimlessly while unattached to a watch, let alone caring that they’re pushing their double strollers in the middle of the sidewalk during the peak of lunch hour for those of us who work in the area. But I’ve made 2015 a year of new things so not only did I go outside at lunch and take a look at the trees, I even agreed to go visit the Arlington National Cemetery with my dad who for some reason just HAD to see the Changing of the Guard Ceremony. I admit that I think both of these activities sent my allergies into a whole new dimension of sickness that’s had me laid up coughing and hating life for the past week, but hey, the trees were very pretty and the Arlington Cemetery was a great place to visit. Do I wish I could take back the sickness that blanketed me in misery for the past 7 days? Absolutely. Am I glad I finally got to see what all the tree fuss was about? Absolutely. Will I be there next year, or the year after next? Let’s wait on that.
My dad was super pressed to come to DC to visit the Arlington National Cemetery to see the Changing of the Guard ceremony. If you’re not from DC you’re probably wondering what the big deal about Cherry Blossoms are, let alone a cemetery that changes guards for one tomb. So let me pause real quick for a brief catch-you-up. Cherry Blossoms – the trees are very symbolic in Japan due to their quick, beautiful bloom and likewise quick death. Japanese have used the tree as a symbol for nationalism and militarism. In 1912 Japan gave 3,020 trees to the US and another 3,800 in 1965 to enhance the growing friendship between the two nations. So now every year when they bloom in DC along the Tidal Basin, a festival is held during their peak.
For me, the trees inspired a pink plaid button down, an old blue cut off sweatshirt, silver brooch, destroyed denim, and pink and red Oxford’s that were quite comfortable for a day of walking I might add.
Now for the Arlington National Cemetery. 624 acres dedicated to being a final resting place for the many men and women who have served in the American military since the American Civil War, but there are veterans who have been interred from every American war since the Revolution. The land sits high, which is good for a grave site making it free from flooding, while also providing a great view of the DC city. Quick facts: The first military burial was in 1864, and the first African-American burial was in this same year, an arrangement made by President Lincoln who wanted his valet, William H. Johnson, buried there. The cemetery did not officially desegregate allowing African-American military to be buried alongside other soldiers until 1948, almost 100 years later, under the Executive Order of President Harry S. Truman. There are over 400,000 buried dead at the cemetery.
My dad, who has been a mortician since before I was born, had the Changing of the Guard on his bucket list and trekked my daughter, my brother, and myself up the hills and through the cemetery to see the ceremony which happens on every half-hour after during Spring/Summer visiting hours. There is more than one unknown soldier in the tomb, there are actually 3. There were 4 at one time but in 1998, the fourth, a veteran of Vietnam,was disinterred and identified due to the good ole DNA testing that was newly available. The remaining 3 are from World Wars I and II, and the Korean War. The tomb has been guarded by real life guards for 24/7 since April 6, 1948!! Through rain, snow, frigid temperatures and heatwaves, even earthquakes and tsunami’s. The guard still stands! What a job, huh?
So what does he do? The guard walks back and forth in a meticulous routine until he is relieved by another guard. The guards are soldiers of the US Army, and it’s considered one of the highest honors to serve as a Sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Fewer than 20 percent of all volunteers are accepted for training and of those only a fraction pass training to become full-fledged Tomb Guards. This attrition rate has made the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Guard Identification Badge the second least-awarded qualification badge of the United States military (the first being the Astronaut Badge). That kinda blew my mind!
Ok, I’m done with my history buff lesson for today. I admit, a lot of these facts amazed me, especially being that I live and work next door to this history every day.
I won’t hold you guys any longer, but I do have to mention that I saw the resting place of one of my most favorite First Ladies, Jackie Kennedy. Laid to rest next to her husband, JFK and their two little babies; Arabella who was stillborn and Patrick who lived two days.
And that’s the end of my tour through Cherry Blossom trees and cemetery’s Style Stampers. I hope you learned a little something like I did. Until next time!