WARNING: I’m about to make a political statement for which I do not apologize. I love my country and my freedom, and I’m incredibly proud to live here in the United States. I’m also beyond grateful for our servicemen and women who have allowed me the opportunity to do so.
In 1989, we took a family trip to Washington D.C. This was my first visit to D.C. with many more to follow years later. From this particular trip, however, I have a few vivid memories. I remember jokingly telling my brother to cross the street (into oncoming traffic, of course), and I remember my Dad letting me have it for it. Ha! My brother was older and much wiser, so I don’t think he had any intention of jumping into traffic, but I realize now that my Dad needed to ensure I knew those kind of urgings were not okay.
My second scolding came during our visit to Arlington Cemetery. I made a wise crack about something, and Dear Ol' Dad stepped in again. Only this time, he was as serious as I’d seen. You DO NOT mess with the sacredness of Arlington (or any cemetery, for that matter). You don’t laugh, make wise cracks, or raise your voice on such hallowed grounds. “Got it”, I thought, as I retreated into a moody, pre-teen funk and sulked through the rest of the day.
Fast-forward to the first time I returned to Arlington Cemetery as an adult. I was in my late 30s, had lost Dear Ol' Dad to cancer, and was with some of my favorite people on the planet. It was also Veterans Day, and the grounds were green, the trees were gold and red, and I wasn’t prepared for the gut-punch of emotions that hit me as soon as we stepped on the grounds.
As far as I could see, rows and rows of stark white tombstones stretched out across the hills. Families huddled and hugged, and a silent somberness filled the air. The magnitude of what I was observing and feeling was indescribable. This is what my father, a former Marine, was trying to teach me. I just wasn’t old enough to really “get it”.
I didn’t “get” that over 14,000 men and women lay in the ground under my feet so that I could travel freely across the country to dare my brother and visit my friends. I didn’t “get” that so many of these men and women died as teenagers and young twenty-somethings. I also didn’t “get” that some of these servicepeople will never be known, as only pieces of their bodies were returned from battle, which is why I also didn’t “get” why it was so incredible that a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier guard stands watch over this sacred site 24 hours a day, every day of the year, regardless of weather conditions.
At that moment, as an adult, I finally “got it”, and I’ll never forget it. I now make it a point to swing by the cemetery when I’m in D.C. (it’s super easy and accessible), especially on Veterans Day, when possible, keeping me grateful for this country, our servicepeople, and for parents who enforce the importance of respect and freedom and values and beliefs.
If you’ve never traveled to D.C., I urge you to place it high on your list and make it happen. The city is gorgeous- parks and green spaces abound. Many of the museums and tourist sites are free and open to the public, and the public transportation system is great! D.C. is also a walkable city with four beautiful seasons and something for everyone in the family.
Have you been to Arlington National Cemetery? If so, were you struck by its somber beauty? I’d love to hear about it!
Hi, I'm Brooke. I travel the world at every opportunity, and I hope to help you do the same. I offer travel tips and insights from a real world, every day perspective. Read more about me and my vision for Happy Tracks here.