Arlington National Cemetery covers 612 acres. Although not the largest national cemetery in the country, it is the most famous. Over 200,000 veterans and their dependents are buried here. From Pierre L’Enfant (George Washington’s aide during the American Revolution) to General Maxwell Taylor (Chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff during the Vietnam conflict), there are veterans buried here representing every conflict in which the United States has fought. The gravesite of John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline B. Kennedy consists of Massachusetts granite quarried over 150 years ago and personally selected by immediate family. Sedum and fescue are planted between the stone to achieve the impression of a natural, New England granite field. Quotations from President Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address are imprinted along the ellipse in front of the grave site. The eternal flame is the focal point of the grave.
The first interment into the Tomb of the Unknowns was held on Armistice Day, November 11, 1921. President Warren G. Harding delivered the eulogy to the unknown soldier from WWII. During the early years, the tomb was protected only by civilian watchmen. In 1926, a formal military guard was established during daylight hours, when the cemetery was open to the public. A 24-hour vigil was established in 1936. The original tomb consisted of a pedestal base. In 1926, a 50-ton piece of Colorado marble was positioned on the original site and was sculpted by Thomas Hudson Jones. The project was completed on December 31, 1931.
There are many other memorial sites throughout the cemetery including: Challenger Space Shuttle Memorial, Mast of the U.S.S. Maine (“Remember the Maine!”) Spanish-American War Memorial, Confederate Memorial, Chaplains Monument, Rough Riders Memorial and the Coast Guard Memorial. Civilian notables buried here include Heavyweight Boxing Champ Joe Louis, actor Lee Marvin, WWII’s most decorated soldier Audie Murphy, ABC newscaster Frank Reynolds, our 27th president William Howard Taft, and Abner Doubleday, who, in addition to inventing baseball, is credited with shooting the first Union Volley during the Civil War.
The changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns is conducted every hour on the hour October 1 to March 31 from 9am to 5pm and every half hour from April 1 to September 30 from 8:30am to 7pm. While guarding the Tomb, sentinels take 21 steps before turning and facing the tomb for 21 seconds. This corresponds with America’s highest military honor, the 21-gun salute. When visiting the Tomb of the Unknowns, we stress that you please be silent as a show of respect.
Nearly 4 million visitors pay their respects to over 250,000 fallen military heroes entombed at Arlington each year.