While many adults understand the sacrifices that are represented at Arlington Cemetary, it is harder for kids to feel the connection. There are some things you can do to make the experience more interesting and help your children connect. This is also a great activity for school groups. We have soldiers in Iraq and Aphganistan that are actively giving their lives for FREEDOM! Before going to Arlington, have your child/student visit the website http://projects.washingtonpost.com/fallen/. This website reviews recent lives lost in our war efforts. My son chose a soldier that lost his life a couple months ago. We researched the local newspaper reports from the young man’s home town and found that he was being buried at Arlington. We read the stories from the family and friends. We learned about his life before the military and about those who loved him. We were able to find a photo of our soldier. This really personalized the experience.
With prep work done… plan your trip and visit Arlington Cemetary. When you arrive, you can go to the information desk and obtain the location of the person you researched. If you want to find this information ahead of time, you can call customer information at (703) 607-8000. Save this visit for the end of your stay at Arlington so that the excitement can build. Get a map from the information desk.
On your way up the hill, stop by the grave site of John F. Kennedy. The eternal flame is usually facinating to the kids. Jackie Kennedy is buried next to him as well. This location offers a great view of the cemetary. Just to the east you will find the tomb of the unknown soldier. This is a really interesting place to visit as there is a changing of the gaurd ceremony on the half hour most of the year and on the hour during the winter months. There are three tombs. There is a tomb for WWII, the Korean War and for the Vietnam War. However, the tomb for the Vietnam War is empty as the soldier that was buried here was later identified by DNA and his family decided to relocate him to their home town. It was decided to leave the tomb empty.
Just behind the ampitheater you will find the memorieal to the crew of the Challenger. Most of the children have seen space shuttles and will identify this memorial. Tell them about the teacher that was on this mission and how her class witnessed the launch. Tell them where you were when this happened as I am sure you will remember.
Lastly, find the grave site of your researched soldier. Take a flower to put on the grave. If the soldier is Jewish, placing a stone on the top of the grave. The stone is a sign of respect for the dead. It stems from the symbolism of making sure the burial site is noted by a stone marker. It also helps those who come after know that someone else was there and visited the gravesite. I have heard families say that it makes them proud to know that others cared.
Most families that are at Arlington visiting their loved ones deserve respect but often really appreciate thanks from others for the loss they suffered on our behalf. My son valued the opportunity to shake hands with some visitors.
No photos during a funeral.