Day 5 - Washington DC  
   
    Metro Escalator, Washington DC    
Minolta X-570 with 24mm f/2.8 VFC MC Rokkor Film: Kodak Portra 400UC (Desaturated)
 

I left Phil's house in Columbia Heights the next morning and made my way to the subway. The Washington Metro is very easy to use, and is an inexpensive and efficient method of travel around the city. I took the Metro to the Pentagon, where I had arranged to meet Phil for a guided tour of the building.

Unfortunately, photographs are not permitted in the area of the Pentagon for security reasons, so this part of my journey would be undocumented, but I was thrilled at the chance to tour the premises. Organised tours are available for friends and relatives of employees, however it was too late for me to get onto one of those, and accordingly Phil was simply going to show me around.

The Pentagon is the world's largest federal office building, with over 23,000 people working within its walls. In order that amployees do not need to leave the building during a workday, in addition to office space it houses medical and dental facilities, a bank, credit union, post office, and the main concourse which is very much like a shopping mall. Throughout the building are corridors and rooms devoted to honouring military personnel and heroes of the USA. It includes the Hall of Heroes, which is dedicated to the 3,436 recipients of the Medal of Honour, and the Soldiers and Signers of the Constitution Corridor, where there are paintings of 23 of the 40 signers of the U.S. Constitution.

Anyway, I met Phil at the entry to the building and submitted to a search of my gear, before entering and lining up for my photo ID. At all times in the building guests must wear an ID and be in the presence of an authorised employee. Finally it was my turn to be photographed, and Phil presented his ID to be registered as a guide, when we discovered to our dismay that his ID did not permit him to escort guests in the building.

I was a little disappointed at not being able to visit the Pentagon, but I decided that while I was on this side of the Potomac River I would visit Arlington National Cemetery.

 
   
   

Arlington National Cemetery, Washington DC

   
 

Minolta X-570 with 50mm f/1.2 MD Rokkor-X Film: Kodak Portra 400UC

   
 

In 1864 during the Civil War, and at a time when casualties overflowed hospitals and burial grounds near Washington DC, Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs proposed that 200 acres of the Robert E. Lee family property at Arlington be taken for a cemetery. Given General Lee was, in fact, leading the Southern forces into battle at the time he was not handy to dispute the proposal.

By the end of the Civil War, over 16,000 graves filled the places close to General Lee's Mansion. After the war, the heir to the property Custis Lee sued the government for disputing his claim to ownersip of the land, and won. The government subsequently paid the sum of $150,000 for title to the land.

Arlington National Cemetery is now probably the best known of all U.S. National Cemeteries. Over 275,000 servicemen and their family members rest on the 624 acres that form the cemetery.

September 1st was going to become a hot day, but when I arrived at Arlington the sun was yet to burn off the mistiness, and the moist air and silence lent a somber stillness to the place. It was a quite ethreal experience walking through the rows upon rows of graves.

 
 
 
 
Arlington National Cemetery, Washington DC
 
 
Minolta X-570 with 50mm f/1.2 MD Rokkor-X. Film: Kodak Portra 400UC
 
 

Arlington includes several very significant monuments within its acres. These include the graves of President John F. Kennedy, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington House (now restored and made a memorial to Confederate General Robert E. Lee), and numerous other memorials from virtually every conflict in which the USA has participated.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a must for any visitor to Arlington. In 1921 an unknown soldier was exhumed from each of the four American cemeteries in France, and assembled at Chalons Sur Marne. The unknown soldier was selected by Sergeant Edward F. Younger, who entered the room where the four unknowns lay in identical flag draped caskets. He placed a spray of white roses on the casket he selected, officially designating the unknown soldier. The other three were respectfully reinterred in France, and the unknown was transported to Arlington, where he was buried on Rememberance Day, November 11, 1921. The tomb bears the inscription "Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God"

In similar ceremonies an unknown soldier from both World War II and the Korean Conflict buried at the memorial in Arlington. These servicemen lie in crypts beneath the stone slabs in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Interestingly, there is a third slab which once held an unknown serviceman from the Vietnam War. This unknown was buried at the tomb on Memorial Day, 1984. In 1998 the body of the unknown was exhumed for possible identification, and after extensive testing was identified as First Lieutenant Michael J. Blassie, U.S. Air Force. At his father's request, Lietenant Blassie was then interred at the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, Missouri. The crypt now lies empty.

The fact that the Vietnam era unknown was subsequently identified does raise a point of interest. It may be unlikely, with modern identification techniques based upon DNA, that there will ever be a further addition to the tomb.

 
 
 
 
Tomb of the Unknowns, Changing of the Guard
 
 
Minolta X-570 with 50mm f/1.2 MD Rokkor-X. Film: Kodak Portra 400UC
 
 
 
 
Sentinel, Tomb of the Unknowns
 
 
Minolta X-570 with 200mm f/2.8 MD Tele Rokkor. Film: Kodak Portra 400UC
 
 

The Tomb of the Unknowns is watched over by a Sentinel from the Third U.S. Infantry around the clock. The sentinel paces 21 steps down the mat before the tomb, before pausing for 21 seconds, and then returning. On the hour (or half hour from April to September) you can see the changing of the guard.

After spending a couple of hours walking around the cemetery, I had only seen a fraction of the memorials at Arligton. It truly makes one feel in awe of the commitment of American servicemen and servicewomen when you see the rows upon rows of gravesites, all laid down in less than 150 years. However, I was keen to get into the city itself, and so I left Arlington, and walked across Arlington Memorial Bridge into the city.

Washington DC is truly an amazing city. It is the only city that I know of in the world where its actual role as a seat of government seems to take a second place to its role as a monument to a people and a nation. The next part of my journey sees me begin to view some of the memorials and monuments that give the city it's amazing character.

 
 
 
 
Day 5 - Continued
 
 
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