A Patriotic Christmas at Arlington National Cemetery
This column by ACRU Policy Board member Hans von Spakovsky was published December 14, 2015 by National Review.
My wife and I had quite an experience on Saturday morning when we headed to Arlington National Cemetery to take part in the annual Christmas wreath-laying event. I have never seen so many people in the nation’s premier military burying ground. Wayne Hanson, the chairman of Wreaths Across America, which organized the event, estimated that 70,000 people were at the cemetery. Based on my experience there this weekend, that seems like a pretty good estimate.
The traffic jam to get to the cemetery extended down both sides of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. We couldn’t even get close, so we finally drove into Washington itself and parked by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. We walked across Memorial Bridge, which extends from the Lincoln Memorial over the Potomac River to Arlington National Cemetery, the former estate of Robert E. Lee and Mary Custis Lee. She inherited it from her father, George Washington Parker Custis, the grandson of Martha Washington and step-grandson of George Washington. The cemetery was established on the estate during the Civil War to bury and honor Civil War soldiers, so it seemed very appropriate to be entering from the Lincoln Memorial.
While there were many local residents from Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia at Arlington, as you would expect, there were many who had taken the time to drive there from far away. We saw license plates from many different states stuck in the traffic jam of cars trying to get into the cemetery.
It was a truly moving event. We saw Americans of every age, kind, and color, from the very young to the very old, all standing in line by the semi-tractor-trailer trucks parked throughout Arlington National Cemetery, waiting patiently for wreaths to be handed out of the trucks. We saw men and women in the uniforms of every military service, in addition to civilians like us, including some elderly veterans with walkers and in wheelchairs being escorted by their families, and even a young girl on crutches with her arm stuck through a wreath.
After picking up as many wreaths as we could carry, we walked out into the long rows of grave stones, laying wreaths. There were enough wreaths and volunteers to place wreaths on 240,000 graves at Arlington. Not only was everyone there a volunteer, but all of the wreaths were donated and the trucks carrying them had also been contributed at no charge by a host of companies, including Hobby Lobby, whose fight for religious liberty went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court last year.
And speaking of the Supreme Court, as fate would have it, we ended up quite by accident at the grave marker of Earl Warren, former chief justice of the United States, and his wife, Nina Elisabeth Palmquist.
While I might not like or agree with some of the decisions that Earl Warren made when he was on the Court, one leaves politics behind when walking through the wrought-iron gates that lead into Arlington. The men and women who are laid to rest there defended this great country and the liberty and freedom we enjoy as Americans. As Abraham Lincoln said, they “gave their lives that that nation might live.”
It is “all together fitting and proper” that no one cares what political party they were members of or what church, synagogue, or mosque they attended (or didn’t attend). So I put two wreaths on that grave marker, in honor of First Lieutenant Earl Warren and his wife, Nina.
Interestingly enough, Warren’s grave is right next to that of John Foster Dulles, Cold War warrior and secretary of state for President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and his wife, Janet Avery Dulles. My Russian father would have been pleased that I laid two wreaths on that grave marker, in honor of Major John Foster Dulles and his fierce fight against Communism, the murderous ideology that drove my father from his homeland.
We also laid wreaths on the gravestones of some of the volunteers who went to Cuba in the Spanish-American War as members of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. Many of those stones have nothing more than the soldier’s name, with not even the rank or date of death. There is also a great memorial there erected in 1906 by the surviving members of the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, one of the most storied volunteer regiments in American history.
Walking through Arlington National Cemetery was a humbling and inspiring experience. Humbling, because we were confronted by how many Americans and their families have sacrificed to protect and defend this country, but it was also inspiring to see so many of my patriotic fellow citizens there on a Saturday before Christmas honoring the fallen, those who “gave their last full measure of devotion” for that shining city on a hill.
Our nation is confronted by many dangers from abroad by those who are intent on destroying us and our way of life, and we are headed into a presidential race where we will decide who will lead us in the fight to preserve our unique experiment. Let’s hope that those who are sleeping in Arlington National Cemetery will not have died in vain, and that those of us who are here today will work together to ensure that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.