I have been to Arlington many, many times and it never fails to move me.
The first time I visited this hallowed place was as a senior in high school. It is amazing to me all these years later the effect it had on our group. We left our bus, a typical group of high school students, chattering and pretty much doing what “cool” kids did in 1962, and then the place hit us. Hit is a good word as the group immediately quieted down as the vista of row upon row of stark white markers lay before us.
My next visit was not until June 1968 after I had moved to Washington as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Force. On June 6 1968 Senator Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles. As the story unfolded, it was announced that RFK’s body would be flown back to New York for his funeral on June 8, and plans were made to bring him to Washington by train for burial in Arlington near his brother’s grave.
On Sunday June 9, 1968, I decided to go to Arlington to visit the Kennedy grave sites. It was a warm, sunny morning and despite all the recent events of the previous days, the area around the graves was deserted. I climbed the hill to the graves to spend a quiet moment and pay my respect.
As I turned to leave there, to my surprise, were Jacqueline Kennedy, John Jr., and Caroline coming up the hill. The Kennedy children had come at this quiet moment to visit their father’s grave and pay respects to Uncle Bobby.
Now this is the amazing thing. When I arrived at JFK’s grave there was no one there; two seconds after Jackie arrived a huge crowd appeared literally out of nowhere. I will never know where this group materialized from.
Jackie and the children walked to John’s grave knelt down, prayed, and then moved slowly to Robert’s freshly dug resting place. Jackie carried a single rose which she placed on the grave, and turned and left, passing by not more than a foot from where I stood.
In 1985, we returned to the Washington DC area when I was assigned there again, By then, we had two teen age daughters and one of the first places we took them was Arlington to the Tomb of the Unknowns and the Kennedy grave sites. Spots that we often took others to as well — all were overwhelmed by the power of this place.
But it is that long ago visit in 1968 continues to stay with me.
It was a special moment in one of the truly special places in America that I will never forget.