(See the interactive map of Arlington National Cemetary)
Casualities in the American Civil War were extremely high, hospitals and burial grounds near Washington D.C. were under extreme pressure for both beds and final resting places.
It was in 1864, that Quartermaster General, Montgomery Meigs proposed that 200 acres of the Robert E. Lee’s family property at Arlington should become a cemetery.
He added, that the grounds surrounding the mansion are: "Admirably adapted to such a use."
Arlington as a Cemetery.
In fact, burials had actually begun at Arlington before the ink had dried on Meig’s proposal.
By the time the Civil War was over, 16,000 graves had taken over the space close to the house.
Although the Supreme Court had ruled in favour of the heir to the property, for a sum of $150,000, Curtis Lee, who was the eldest son of the famous General, ceded the title to the US Government, and further indicated that he would not live in the house.
The National Cemetery at Arlington, now covers 612 acres of Virginia, and stands across from the Potomac River, and the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Something like 225,000 U.S Servicemen and members of their families are presently buried at Arlington.
There is a Tomb of the Unknowns, and a Sentinal of the 3rd. U.S. Infantry maintains a vigil around the clock. This Sentinal paces 21 steps down the mat before the Tomb, pauses 21 seconds, and then returns.
“Here rests in glory an American Soldier, known only to God.” reads the inscription on the sarcophagus of the WW1 soldier entombed here in 1921.
There are unknown Servicemen from WW2, Korea, and Vietnam in crypts beneath slabs that are flush with the terrace paving.
There are about 18 burials every week day, at the present time at Arlington Cemetery.
At the grave side of President John Kennedy an eternal flame burns,and the words:
"With history as the final judge of our deeds..." are quoted from his inaugural address.
His brother Robert F. Kennedy and Jackie are also buried here.
The most decorated WW2 U.S soldier, Audie Murphie, and Joe Louis, world heavy weight boxing champion also rest here at Arlington.
My wife Denise and I have good reason to be grateful that Arlington Cemetery exists.
In early September 2001, our Australian Embassy in Washington D.C. invited us to fly to the Capital to attend a ceremony at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday the 10th. of September.
President George W. Bush was going to present the Ship's bell from USS Canberra to my Prime Minister, the Honourable John W. Howard MP.
I had been sunk in HMAS Canberra at the Battle of Savo Island on the 9th. 0f August 1942, and in 1943, the US heavy cruiser was launched and named after my ship by Lady Dixon, the wife of the Australian Minister to Washington.
In 1967, when the ship was in Melbourne, my 6 year old son Raymond was christened on board using this bell as the font. Lady Dixon and the ship's Captain Edwin Rosenberg USN became his God Mother and God Father.
In 1997, when visiting the United States, I tracked down the bell in storage at a Naval Storehouse in Williamsburg, and again viewed this artifact, but was denied any opportunity of getting it donated to Australia.
In August of 2001 I called on the US Ambassador to Australia in our National Capital Canberra, and asked if he would endeavour to have the USS Canberra's bell given to Australia. The ceremony on the 10th. of September emanated from that visit.
On the day in question, at the Navy Yard, with true US Navy ceremony, and a 19 gun salute for my PM, the President presented this 300 pound bell to John Howard to mark the 50th. Anniversary of signing the ANZUS Treaty between Australia and the United States.
Both the President and the Prime Minister were gracious enough to mention me in their speeches.
Then quite unexpectedly the President left the dais and followed by John Howard came down to greet and meet us.
With his hand outstretched, he approached me saying "Its an honour to meet you Sir." I was almost speechless, but stammered out " Its my pleasure to meet you Mr President." Mr Howard then spoke to me, shaking hands.
Denise had moved away to try and get a photograph of this historic moment for me, the President went after her, took her hand saying "Come on, you must be in this too." He took the camera from her hand, passed it off to a three star Marine General close by, ordering him "Take a photograph!"
This was duly done, and in our proud possession is a photograph of us with the President of the United States, and the Australian Prime Minister.
The next day, the dreadful events of 9/11 unfolded, and we were stuck in Washington until the following Saturday.
Our Embassy had arranged for both of us to join the Prime Minister and Mrs Howard on a visit to Arlington Cemetery on that day, Tuesday the 11th. of September 2001. There is, I believe, one Australian Serviceman buried at Arlington, and Mrs Howard was to lay a wreath on his grave site.
On Wednesday the 12th. of September, at a luncheon arranged for us by Rear Admiral Simon Harrington RAN, from our Embassy, we were informed that Denise and I were booked on American Airlines Flight Number 77 from Dulles Airport to Los Angeles on Tuesday the 11th. to return to Australia.
Of course, this was the AA Flight that crashed into the Pentagon, but for the Prime Minister's party scheduled to visit Arlington Cemetery on Tuesday the 11th. of September, and the decision to take us off that fateful flight to join our Prime Minister and Mrs Howard, we would have been aboard Flight Number 77.
We have the very existence of Arlington Cemetery, and the proposed visit there of the Prime Ministerial party to thank for our lucky escape.
I have always subscribed to the view that: "It is better to be lucky than rich."
If visiting Washington D.C. make the journey to Arlington, the most famous of the more than 100 National Cemeteries dotted around the United States, it is a most rewarding experience.