Arlington National Cemetery, just outside of Washington, D.C., is the United States’ most hallowed ground – America’s premier military cemetery. Since 1864, it has been the final resting place of the nation’s military veterans who have served and sacrificed for their country. It conducts an average of 27 funerals every work day, and historic figures buried there, including President John F. Kennedy and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, make it a must-see location for tourists. Set on 624 acres of rolling green hills, with numerous gardens, centuries-old trees, and memorials along the way, it is an incredible ground of awe and respect. As stated by Arlington, "This historic cemetery bears witness to our American heritage and the military service and sacrifice of men and women in uniform throughout our history."
Military funerals include formality like no other. From a military chaplain, to a firing party and a bugler playing "Taps," services are as precise and breathtaking as one might expect. Full military honors for high ranking officers also include a caisson, an escort platoon and a military band. It is truly a moving, unforgettable ceremony.
My father was laid to rest there, complete with full military honors, last week on July 18.
I am usually able to write with relative ease and while I had previously written about my dad, I have been silent since his death in February. I am still not emotionally strong enough to put into words what his loss means to me. And while I knew that this burial service would no doubt be emotional once again, even I was unprepared for what triggered an immense sense of pride and honor for my dad. Seeing the white horses set up for the caisson escort was regal.
The chapel service was professional, yet very personal. Then the procession of tradition and formality, servicemen performing their Arlington duties with respect – that was overwhelming. Following the caisson slowly up and down the rolling hills to the graveside service, one of the most breathtaking moments was seeing a large group of tourists simply stop at the side of the road as we passed, observing silently and respectfully. They were likely in awe of their chance sighting of an actual funeral procession; I was in awe of their reverence of the moment, and my emotions got the best of me.
The military band, color guard, three volley firing salute and the eerie yet magnificent bugler solo were all memorable parts of the service. Finally, the American flag was folded with incredible precision before being presented by General Lepper to my stepmother, and the service was complete. We walked the urn containing my dad’s ashes over to his burial marker, and then we said goodbye.
This final farewell was a testament to my dad’s military service and accolades, while also making personal reference to those things truly important in his life – faith, family and friends.
Dad, I am proud of you in so many ways and I miss you more than words can begin to say. I am comforted knowing that you may now rest in peace at this beautiful, honored national cemetery. You deserve the best.