PRIMARILY PRESIDENTIAL DESTINATIONS: ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
Welcome to my series on presidential destinations. We’ve been visiting a lot of residences, libraries and museums, but today we’re going to Arlington National Cemetery.
More Than Merely Presidential
Arlington National Cemetery transcends being called a presidential destination. The lives represented by the tombstones there are one of the greatest legacies we have as Americans. If you’re wondering whether our country is worth fighting for, look at the testimony of these men and women. If this is not convincing multiply those tombstones by our military cemeteries on foreign battlefields, by other National Cemeteries in our country and by the many veterans you find buried in public and private cemeteries throughout our nation.
Presidents Buried at Arlington
There are two presidents buried at Arlington Cemetery, William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy. Taft was a one-term president hand-selected by Teddy Roosevelt as a successor. Roosevelt’s blessing was not enough to overcome the apolitical policies of Taft’s administration, but Taft went on to have a significant career in the judiciary branch. Few of us could list a significant result of his off the top of our head, even though he was a task-oriented man who accomplished many things in his administration and then went on to serve our country for many years in other roles.
John F. Kennedy‘s legacy is completely different. A charismatic man cut down in the prime of his life, he’s still mourned as a hero. Even now, decades after his assassination, pilgrims from all over the world congregate at his graveside to honor him. Visitors to Arlington Cemetery, who are not visiting someone from their own life, most often come to see the Tomb of the Unknowns and/or the Kennedy Memorial, then move on to other Washington D.C. attractions more compelling than the Taft Monument.
Though I would love to go, I have not yet visited the JFK Library and Museum in Boston. I have been to his graveside. I was only eight when he was shot and I have no actual memory of him before that day. I have seen so much about him over the years that I know his history almost as well as I know my own. Perhaps since he became real to me with his death, it is fitting that I visited the grave first.
One of the saddest things about the early death of Kennedy is that he died before those who could tell his secrets did. There is no doubt that he was a great man from a great family, a family devoted to America. The politics of the Kennedy family are more liberal than mine, but this does not diminish my admiration for them. However, it seems as if every year or so someone comes forth with secrets which can only serve to tarnish his name. I wonder if they think they are doing anything of value when they reveal their tawdry trash. He was human and none of us humans are perfect. Though I am aware of reality, I choose to remember Camelot.
If you want to explore the life of Kennedy, there are other locations beyond his Library and his grave to visit. Living in Dallas I frequently drive by Love Field, Dealy Plaza, the Texas School Book Depository, the Grassy Knoll and Parkland Hospital, but he was only at these sites for a few fleeting moments. The site I associate most with JFK would be the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. Perhaps someday it will be available for tours, because it was recently donated for charitable use, but it’s future is still being determined.
To me, a grave is an odd place to commemorate a life. It’s easy to find out where all the presidents are buried. Several sites list them all with dates of death and grave-sites. Many are buried next to their Library. Others are taking their eternal rest near a residence that was important to them. I’ve been to several of them, but I do not think of these men in relation to where they died or where they were buried. It is where they lived and what they accomplished that captures my heart and my mind.
What do you think? Do you find burial sites compelling? Do you like to go where someone died or was buried? Do you attach a significance to final resting places?