Yesterday, I spent my morning at the Arlington National Cemetery. After parking my car, I walked through the gates and headed to a grave I have always wanted to see.Yes, it is my favorite actor, Lee Marvin. Marvin is buried near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. As I was walking toward Marvin’s grave, I forked left while everyone else was walking to the right. Of course, they went to see the cemetery’s most popular gravesite, that of President John F. Kennedy. Also, people were taking pictures of graves, indiscriminately, so that they could get that “perfect shot” which exemplifies the loses America suffered (or so they want you to believe).
As I walked up the hill toward Marvin’s grave, the crowds disappeared. By the time I finally found the gravesite of Major John Reisman (Marvin’s name in The Dirty Dozen, one of my favorite movies), there was no crowd at all. I then walked the few hundred yards to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. When I arrived there were about five people there, all with their cameras and conducting small talk. Tuning them out, I was amazed at how moving this hallowed ground was. I was filled with emotion in a way that I never had been before. It was at this time that I realized I could never truly feel Canadian, as I will always, proudly, be an American. Unlike the others that were there, I thought it would be somewhat classless to take a photo.
As I left the Tomb, I passed by the gravesites of the Challenger and Columbia Shuttle victims, remembering where I was when both of those tragedies happened. Again, there were only three people there as well.
As I walked back to the front of the cemetery, I was seeking Admiral William F. Halsey’s gravesite. Unlike the other sites, there were a lot of people in the area. However, they were just walking along the path, totally unaware that one of the greatest minds of World War II was right there. This man was a major figure in history, yet people pass by his grave without any recognition.
Going down from Halsey’s gave, I finally arrived at the Kennedy site. It honestly seemed like a tourist attraction, with people from all over the world taking a look at the eternal flame. Cameras were flashing and video cameras were rolling. It had more of a Disney World type of atmosphere, more like a tourist location, than a cemetery.
Before I left the cemetery, I had to visit another area…Section 31. In this section, President and Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Taft is buried. In front of him, however, is a group of men who were also extremely important to American history. First is Arthur Radford, a four-star admiral who was influential in both World War II and the Korean War, and was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, during which he started converting the American military away from being conventional to being nuclear. Just a few plots down from Radford was another Chair of the Joint Chiefs, as well as a Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, Lyman Lemnitzer (who had a controversial tenure as the JCS Chair). Next to Lemnitzer was Alexander Haig, also a former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan. Next to Haig is Harold Keith Johnson, who was a part of the Bataan Death March and eventually became the Army Chief of Staff. A few plots away from General Johnson is General J. Lawton Collins, a four-star general who commanded in both the Pacific and European theaters. A few plots behind him is Herbert Yardley, who was instrumental in breaking pre-WWII Japanese coding. And in between Collins and Yardley is General Omar Bradley, one of America’s greatest generals. And, of course, next to these amazing men was President Taft.
All of these men had important roles in American history. And some of them, like Bradley and Taft, were extremely important in the shaping of not just 20th Century America, but the 20th Century around the world. But when I visited their gravesites, how many people were there? Nope, not that many…only one. And I was that one person. During my ten minutes in Section 31, I didn’t see a single person. Considering how significant these men were, I am absolutely amazed that nobody was here.
I truly wonder if America is changing. The fact that not one person was at the site of President Taft or General Bradley is quite depressing. Have we become so simple minded that the only graves we see at Arlington are the Kennedys or those that the tour guides direct us to? Has American truly lost its identity? Have we lost our American heritage? Do we no longer understand American history? Or, do we only understand American history that has been popularized by the commercial media conglomerates or on the big screen?
Of course, some right-wing Republican would take this opportunity to say “Americans are losing their identity because of multiculturalism and immigration, which allows people to come into America without speaking the language and knowing our history”. Are they right? I mean, when I was at the Kennedy grave, some of the people were speaking other languages.
So, do these right-wingers have a point? The answer is absolutely NO. A good 80%+ of the people who were at the cemetery were white, native-born Americans, with an overwhelming majority of them being between the ages of 30 and 70. If anyone should have known the contributions of those that I listed, it should be these people. However, they too gravitated toward the Kennedy gravesite.
I truly believe that Americans no longer have a sense of where they come from, or even our history. We have become a commercialized world in which we no longer seek knowledge, but let others build our knowledge base. We need to start teaching our children about our great nation, with all of its goods, and all of its bads. Future generations should say “let’s see Admiral Halsey’s grave”, and not just pass it without having any knowledge of Halsey’s accomplishments.
However, I am afraid that we are heading down a slippery slope. The History Channel no longer shows history, and the people who do watch the “History Channel” could probably name all of the Ice Road Truckers, but could not tell us one thing about Alexander Haig.
America is changing, and I don’t like it.