Arlington National Cemetery
Then and Now
Arlington National Cemetery, one of our nation’s most important shrines, contains the remains of more than 260,000 brave men and women who have given their lives for their country. They include Presidents and Supreme Court Justices, astronauts and noted historical figures, Medal of Honor recipients and Five Star Officers, along with more than 4,700 unidentified soldiers represented by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Today Arlington is also the resting place for approximately ten percent of the more than 3,500 soldiers who lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan and who are eligible and selected to be buried there.
The 2007 “National Memorial Day Concert” on PBS will reflect on the history and importance of this hallowed burial ground.
Section 60 is where the soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan who are eligible and choose to be buried at Arlington are laid to rest. Some soldiers request an Arlington burial in their wills; in other cases, the families of the deceased make the request on their loved one's behalf. It’s an active area, filled with photos, letters and personal mementos, but not seen by most of Arlington’s millions of tourists. This year’s “National Memorial Day Concert” will tell the heartbreaking and poignant story of Gina Barnhurst, who lost her son Eric in Iraq and visits his grave in Section 60 every week and writes him letters. Acclaimed actress Dianne Weist will share Gina’s thoughts, providing some insight into what the families of newly fallen soldiers experience.
There are many other poignant stories from Section 60 in addition to Gina’s. Over the graves, families quite naturally meet and console one another. There is an immediate understanding among them. Sometimes they talk, sometimes they hug, and sometimes they just give each other the space to mourn. Later, they stay in touch by phone and e-mail. Sometimes they come together for activities. On Valentine’s Day, Holly, a devoted Section 60 regular, organized a distribution of red roses in front of the graves in Section 60.
Beth and Michael Belle were among those who spent the day placing the roses. They come to Section 60 nearly every Sunday to visit the grave of their son Nicholas who was killed in Afghanistan in May 2005. Since Beth and Michael live in the area, they frequently place flowers and other mementos on the graves of the other soldiers whose families they have come to know. Beth says, “They are all our sons.” She feels that it is a gift to be able to be present there and tend to the graves. It’s a way in which she and Michael can support the families who can’t be there as often.
Section 60 has become a gathering place for those who have lost loved ones, encouraging them to bond and develop support networks. It is a type of support needed by each and every family member who has lost a loved one to war.
When a service member is lost, the pain and suffering can be overwhelming for the families. And though it often may not feel that way, they are not alone. Although each story is unique, there are common experiences and feelings that connect the wives and other family members of the fallen as they learn to cope with their loss and to be a source of strength for themselves and others.
Here are some organizations that can help, through peer support, grief counseling referrals, youth programs and many other caring resources.
Visit our section on Help in Healing for more resources for coping with grief.
Each service member’s story is a part of our nation’s history and needs to be told and retold — and remembered. We invite you to use the Submit a Eulogy space on this website to share the story of a spouse, child, parent or other relative or friend who died in one of America’s conflicts. You can contribute a eulogy, remembrance, prayer or poem in their honor, or share your own story of grief over the loss of a loved one.
For those wishing to learn more about Arlington National Cemetery, the official web site is the place to start. It offers visitor information, including hours, transportation, descriptions of the monuments and memorials and a map; notes on funeral eligibility and arrangements; explanations of significant ceremonies; historical background; a photo gallery; and links to other web sites of interest New facts and features are added regularly, including a Photo of the Week.
Of course, a visit to the web site is not the same experience as seeing in person the most hallowed burial ground of our fallen military and one of the most visited tourist sites in the Washington, D.C., area.