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Checking Out the Shrimp
Image by Wootang01
The flight arrived on time; and the twelve hours while on board passed quickly and without incident. To be sure, the quality of the Cathay Pacific service was exemplary once again.
Heathrow reminds me of Newark International. The décor comes straight out of the sterile 80’s and is less an eyesore than an insipid background to the rhythm of human activity, such hustle and bustle, at the fore. There certainly are faces from all races present, creating a rich mosaic of humanity which is refreshing if not completely revitalizing after swimming for so long in a sea of Chinese faces in Hong Kong.
Internet access is sealed in England, it seems. Nothing is free; everything is egregiously monetized from the wireless hotspots down to the desktop terminals. I guess Hong Kong has spoiled me with its abundant, free access to the information superhighway.
Despite staying in a room with five other backpackers, I have been sleeping well. The mattress and pillow are firm; my earplugs keep the noise out; and the sleeping quarters are as dark as a cave when the lights are out, and only as bright as, perhaps, a dreary rainy day when on. All in all, St. Paul’s is a excellent place to stay for the gregarious, adventurous, and penurious city explorer – couchsurfing may be a tenable alternative; I’ll test for next time.
Yesterday Connie and I gorged ourselves at the borough market where there were all sorts of delectable, savory victuals. There was definitely a European flavor to the food fair: simmering sausages were to be found everywhere; and much as the meat was plentiful, and genuine, so were the dairy delicacies, in the form of myriad rounds of cheese, stacked high behind checkered tabletops. Of course, we washed these tasty morsels down with copious amounts of alcohol that flowed from cups as though amber waterfalls. For the first time I tried mulled wine, which tasted like warm, rancid fruit punch – the ideal tonic for a drizzling London day, I suppose. We later killed the afternoon at the pub, shooting the breeze while imbibing several diminutive half-pints in the process. Getting smashed at four in the afternoon doesn’t seem like such a bad thing anymore, especially when you are having fun in the company of friends; I can more appreciate why the English do it so much!
Earlier in the day, we visited the Tate Modern. Its turbine room lived up to its prominent billing what with a giant spider, complete with bulbous egg sac, anchoring the retrospective exhibit. The permanent galleries, too, were a delight upon which to feast one’s eyes. Picasso, Warhol and Pollock ruled the chambers of the upper floors with the products of their lithe wrists; and I ended up becoming a huge fan of cubism, while developing a disdain for abstract art and its vacuous images, which, I feel, are devoid of both motivation and emotion.
My first trip yesterday morning was to Emirates Stadium, home of the Arsenal Gunners. It towers imperiously over the surrounding neighborhood; yet for all its majesty, the place sure was quiet! Business did pick up later, however, once the armory shop opened, and dozens of fans descended on it like bees to a hive. I, too, swooped in on a gift-buying mission, and wound up purchasing a book for Godfrey, a scarf for a student, and a jersey – on sale, of course – for good measure.
I’m sitting in the Westminster Abbey Museum now, resting my weary legs and burdened back. So far, I’ve been verily impressed with what I’ve seen, such a confluence of splendor and history before me that it would require days to absorb it all, when regretfully I can spare only a few hours. My favorite part of the abbey is the poets corner where no less a literary luminary than Samuel Johnson rests in peace – his bust confirms his homely presence, which was so vividly captured in his biography.
For lunch I had a steak and ale pie, served with mash, taken alongside a Guinness, extra cold – 2 degrees centigrade colder, the bartender explained. It went down well, like all the other delicious meals I’ve had in England; and no doubt by now I have grown accustomed to inebriation at half past two. Besides, Liverpool were playing inspired football against Blackburn; and my lunch was complete.
Having had my fill of football, I decided to skip my ticket scalping endeavor at Stamford Bridge and instead wandered over to the British Museum to inspect their extensive collections. Along the way, my eye caught a theater, its doors wide open and admitting customers. With much rapidity, I subsequently checked the show times, saw that a performance was set to begin, and at last rushed to the box office to purchase a discounted ticket – if you call a 40 pound ticket a deal, that is. That’s how I grabbed a seat to watch Hairspray in the West End.
The show was worth forty pounds. The music was addictive; and the stage design and effects were not so much kitschy as delightfully stimulating – the pulsating background lights were at once scintillating and penetrating. The actors as well were vivacious, oozing charisma while they danced and delivered lines dripping in humor. Hairspray is a quality production and most definitely recommended.
At breakfast I sat across from a man who asked me to which country Hong Kong had been returned – China or Japan. That was pretty funny. Then he started spitting on my food as he spoke, completely oblivious to my breakfast becoming the receptacle in which the fruit of his inner churl was being placed. I guess I understand the convention nowadays of covering one’s mouth whilst speaking and masticating at the same time!
We actually conversed on London life in general, and I praised London for its racial integration, the act of which is a prodigious leap of faith for any society, trying to be inclusive, accepting all sorts of people. It wasn’t as though the Brits were trying in vain to be all things to all men, using Spanish with the visitors from Spain, German with the Germans and, even, Hindi with the Indians, regardless of whether or not Hindi was their native language; not even considering the absurd idea of encouraging the international adoption of their language; thereby completely keeping English in English hands and allowing its proud polyglots to "practice" their languages. Indeed, the attempt of the Londoners to avail themselves of the rich mosaic of ethnic knowledge, and to seek a common understanding with a ubiquitous English accent is an exemplar, and the bedrock for any world city.
I celebrated Jesus’ resurrection at the St. Andrew’s Street Church in Cambridge. The parishioners of this Baptist church were warm and affable, and I met several of them, including one visiting (Halliday) linguistics scholar from Zhongshan university in Guangzhou, who in fact had visited my tiny City University of Hong Kong in 2003. The service itself was more traditional and the believers fewer in number than the "progressive" services at any of the charismatic, evangelical churches in HK; yet that’s what makes this part of the body of Christ unique; besides, the message was as brief as a powerpoint slide, and informative no less; the power word which spoke into my life being a question from John 21:22 – what is that to you?
Big trees; exquisite lawns; and old, pointy colleges; that’s Cambridge in a nutshell. Sitting here, sipping on a half-pint of Woodforde’s Wherry, I’ve had a leisurely, if not languorous, day so far; my sole duty consisting of walking around while absorbing the verdant environment as though a sponge, camera in tow.
I am back at the sublime beer, savoring a pint of Sharp’s DoomBar before my fish and chips arrive; the drinking age is 18, but anyone whose visage even hints of youthful brilliance is likely to get carded these days, the bartender told me. The youth drinking culture here is almost as twisted as the university drinking culture in America.
My stay in Cambridge, relaxing and desultory as it may be, is about to end after this late lunch. I an not sure if there is anything left to see, save for the American graveyard which rests an impossible two miles away. I have had a wonderful time in this town; and am thankful for the access into its living history – the residents here must demonstrate remarkable patience and tolerance what with so many tourists ambling on the streets, peering – and photographing – into every nook and cranny.
There are no rubbish bins, yet I’ve seen on the streets many mixed race couples in which the men tend to be white – the women also belonging to a light colored ethnicity, usually some sort of Asian; as well saw some black dudes and Indian dudes with white chicks.
People here hold doors, even at the entrance to the toilet. Sometimes it appears as though they are going out on a limb, just waiting for the one who will take the responsibility for the door from them, at which point I rush out to relieve them of such a fortuitous burden.
I visited the British Museum this morning. The two hours I spent there did neither myself nor the exhibits any justice because there really is too much to survey, enough captivating stuff to last an entire day, I think. The bottomless well of artifacts from antiquity, drawing from sources as diverse as Korea, and Mesopotamia, is a credit to the British empire, without whose looting most of this amazing booty would be unavailable for our purview; better, I think, for these priceless treasures to be open to all in the grandest supermarket of history than away from human eyes, and worst yet, in the hands of unscrupulous collectors or in the rubbish bin, possibly.
Irene and I took in the ballet Giselle at The Royal Opera House in the afternoon. The building is a plush marvel, and a testament to this city’s love for the arts. The ballet itself was satisfying, the first half being superior to the second, in which the nimble dancers demonstrated their phenomenal dexterity in, of all places, a graveyard covered in a cloak of smoke and darkness. I admit, their dance of the dead, in such a gloomy necropolis, did strike me as, strange.
Two amicable ladies from Kent convinced me to visit their hometown tomorrow, where, they told me, the authentic, "working" Leeds Castle and the mighty interesting home of Charles Darwin await.
I’m nursing a pint of Green King Ruddles and wondering about the profusion of British ales and lagers; the British have done a great deed for the world by creating an interminable line of low-alcohol session beers that can be enjoyed at breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner; and their disservice is this: besides this inexhaustible supply of cheap beer ensnaring my inner alcoholic, I feel myself putting on my freshman fifteen, almost ten years after the fact; I am going to have to run a bit harder back in Hong Kong if I want to burn all this malty fuel off.
Irene suggested I stop by the National Art Gallery since we were in the area; and it was an hour well spent. The gallery currently presents a special exhibit on Picasso, the non-ticketed section of which features several seductive renderings, including David spying on Bathsheba – repeated in clever variants – and parodies of other masters’ works. Furthermore, the main gallery houses two fabulous portraits by Joshua Reynolds, who happens to be favorite of mine, he in life being a close friend of Samuel Johnson – I passed by Boswells, where its namesake first met Johnson, on my way to the opera house.
I prayed last night, and went through my list, lifting everyone on it up to the Lord. That felt good; that God is alive now, and ever present in my life and in the lives of my brothers and sisters.
Doubtless, then, I have felt quite wistful, as though a specter in the land of the living, being in a place where religious fervor, it seems, is a thing of the past, a trifling for many, to be hidden away in the opaque corners of centuries-old cathedrals that are more expensive tourist destinations than liberating homes of worship these days. Indeed, I have yet to see anyone pray, outside of the Easter service which I attended in Cambridge – for such an ecstatic moment in verily a grand church, would you believe that it was only attended by at most three dozen spirited ones. The people of England, and Europe in general, have, it is my hope, only locked away the Word, relegating it to the quiet vault of their hearts. May it be taken out in the sudden pause before mealtimes and in the still crisp mornings and cool, silent nights. There is still hope for a revival in this place, for faith to rise like that splendid sun every morning. God would love to rescue them, to deliver them in this day, it is certain.
I wonder what Londoners think, if anything at all, about their police state which, like a vine in the shadows, has taken root in all corners of daily life, from the terrorist notifications in the underground, which implore Londoners to report all things suspicious, to the pair of dogs which eagerly stroll through Euston. What makes this all the more incredible is the fact that even the United States, the indomitable nemesis of the fledgling, rebel order, doesn’t dare bombard its citizens with such fear mongering these days, especially with Obama in office; maybe we’ve grown wise in these past few years to the dubious returns of surrendering civil liberties to the state, of having our bags checked everywhere – London Eye; Hairspray; and The Royal Opera House check bags in London while the museums do not; somehow, that doesn’t add up for me.
I’m in a majestic bookshop on New Street in Birmingham, and certainly to confirm my suspicions, there are just as many books on the death of Christianity in Britain as there are books which attempt to murder Christianity everywhere. I did find, however, a nice biography on John Wesley by Roy Hattersley and The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. I may pick up the former.
Lunch with Sally was pleasant and mirthful. We dined at a French restaurant nearby New Street – yes, Birmingham is a cultural capitol! Sally and I both tried their omelette, while her boyfriend had the fish, without chips. Conversation was light, the levity was there and so was our reminiscing about those fleeting moments during our first year in Hong Kong; it is amazing how friendships can resume so suddenly with a smile. On their recommendation, I am on my way to Warwick Castle – they also suggested that I visit Cadbury World, but they cannot take on additional visitors at the moment, the tourist office staff informed me, much to my disappointment!
Visiting Warwick Castle really made for a great day out. The castle, parts of which were established by William the Conquerer in 1068, is as much a kitschy tourist trap as a meticulous preservation of history, at times a sillier version of Ocean Park while at others a dignified dedication to a most glorious, inexorably English past. The castle caters to all visitors; and not surprisingly, that which delighted all audiences was a giant trebuchet siege engine, which for the five p.m. performance hurled a fireball high and far into the air – fantastic! Taliban beware!
I’m leaving on a jet plane this evening; don’t know when I’ll be back in England again. I’ll miss this quirky, yet endearing place; and that I shall miss Irene and Tom who so generously welcomed me into their home, fed me, and suffered my use of their toilet and shower goes without saying. I’m grateful for God’s many blessings on this trip.
On the itinerary today is a trip to John Wesley’s home, followed by a visit to the Imperial War Museum. Already this morning I picked up a tube of Oilatum, a week late perhaps, which Teri recommended I use to treat this obstinate, dermal weakness of mine – I’m happy to report that my skin has stopped crying.
John Wesley’s home is alive and well. Services are still held in the chapel everyday; and its crypt, so far from being a cellar for the dead, is a bright, spacious museum in which all things Wesley are on display – I never realized how much of an iconic figure he became in England; at the height of this idol frenzy, ironic in itself, he must have been as popular as the Beatles were at their apex. The house itself is a multi-story edifice with narrow, precipitous staircases and spacious rooms decorated in an 18th century fashion.
I found Samuel Johnson’s house within a maze of red brick hidden alongside Fleet Street. To be in the home of the man who wrote the English dictionary, and whose indefatigable love for obscure words became the inspiration for my own lexical obsession, this, by far, is the climax of my visit to England! The best certainly has been saved for last.
There are a multitude of portraits hanging around the house like ornaments on a tree. Every likeness has its own story, meticulously retold on the crib sheets in each room. Celebrities abound, including David Garrick and Sir Joshua Reynolds, who painted several of the finer images in the house. I have developed a particular affinity for Oliver Goldsmith, of whom Boswell writes, "His person was short, his countenance coarse and vulgar, his deportment that of a scholar awkwardly affecting the easy gentleman. It appears as though I, too, could use a more flattering description of myself!
I regretfully couldn’t stop to try the curry in England; I guess the CityU canteen’s take on the dish will have to do. I did, however, have the opportune task of flirting with the cute Cathay Pacific counter staff who checked me in. She was gorgeous in red, light powder on her cheeks, with real diamond earrings, she said; and her small, delicate face, commanded by a posh British accent rendered her positively irresistible, electrifying. Not only did she grant me an aisle seat but she had the gumption to return my fawning with zest; she must be a pro at this by now.
I saw her again as she was pulling double-duty, collecting tickets prior to boarding. She remembered my quest for curry; and in the fog of infatuation, where nary a man has been made, I fumbled my words like the sloppy kid who has had too much punch. I am just an amateur, alas, an "Oliver Goldsmith" with the ladies – I got no game – booyah!
Some final, consequential bits: because of the chavs, Burberry no longer sells those fashionable baseball caps; because of the IRA, rubbish bins are no longer a commodity on the streets of London, and as a result, the streets and the Underground of the city are a soiled mess; and because of other terrorists from distant, more arid lands, going through a Western airport has taken on the tedium of perfunctory procedure that doesn’t make me feel any safer from my invisible enemies.
At last, I saw so many Indians working at Heathrow that I could have easily mistaken the place for Mumbai. Their presence surprised me because their portion of the general population surely must be less than their portion of Heathrow staff, indicating some mysterious hiring bias. Regardless, they do a superb job with cursory airport checks, and in general are absurdly funny and witty when not tactless.
That’s all for England!
Tomb of Unknown Soldier – west detail – Arlington National Cemtery – 2012
Image by Tim Evanson
Looking northeast at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front of Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C., in the United States. The memorial actually has no official name, but Arlington caretakers continue to refer to it by the clunky "Tomb of the Unknowns." Nearly everyone else uses the other name.
Arlington’s first Amphitheater was constructed of wood in 1874, and soon proved far too small. Congress authorized construction of the Memorial Amphitheater on March 4, 1913. Ground-breaking occurred on March 1, 1915, and President Woodrow Wilson placed the cornerstone on October 15, 1915. It was dedicated on May 15, 1920.
Originally, the main entrance to Memorial Amphitheater had a rectangular granite plaza in front of it, from which some short marble steps led down to a slightly elliptical granite plaza surrounded by a marble balustrade. From this overlook, you could see a rectangular grass lawn 20 feet below. But this soon changed…
Memorial Amphitheater was altered forever the year after its dedication. In 1917, America entered World War I. More than 1.3 million Americans served in Europe during the war, and more than 116,516 died. Just 4,221 were unidentified or missing; the missing (3,173) were the vast majority of them. Nonetheless, 1,100 "unidentified" American war dead was a burden on the national conscience, and the media focused heavily on grieving mothers with no body to bury. Some American generals suggested in 1919 that a "Tomb of an Unknown Soldier" be created in the United States. The idea didn’t gain traction at first, but in 1920 both England and France held huge public ceremonies honoring their unknown dead. These received much press attention in the United States, and on February 4, 1921, Congress enacted legislation establishing a similar memorial. Some proponents of the memorial originally proposed burying the unknown soldier in the crypt beneath the Capitol Rotunda — a crypt originally planned for George Washington (but politely declined by his family). Worried that the Capitol might become a mausoleum, Congress instead chose Arlington National Cemetery as the site for the new memorial. On March 4, 1921, with just hours left in his presidency, President Woodrow Wilson signed the legislation into law.
In the United States, preparation for the "Tomb of the Unknown Solider" was frantically under way. The newly-formed American Legion (a congressionally-chartered veterans’ lobby group) was pressing as late as May 1921 for the body to be buried in the Capitol Crypt. This debate was not resolved until mid-July, and by then very little time remained to create the monument. Where to build the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery continued until October, when it was decided that the view from the Memorial Amphitheater’s plaza was the most appropriate site.
The Tomb was cut unto the center of the short steps which led down to the granite overlook. Diggers buried downward until they reached the level of the lawn below. They then continued another 20 feet below the surface. The subsurface shaft was 16 feet from east to west and 9.5 feet from north to south, and filled with solid concrete. This formed the footings for the vault above. The footings had to be that deep and that large because tons of marble were going to be placed on top of them, and the memorial could not be permitted to sink or become destabilized. The vault itself was lined with marble. The vault’s walls ranged in thickness from 7 feet at the bottom to 2 feet, 4 inches at the top. A plinth (or "sub-base") was set on top of the vault walls. The plinth serves as the base of the memorial proper, and also helps to conceal the rough, unfinished top of the vault walls. The plinth was made of three finished, rectangular pieces of marble which fitted over the vault walls like a collar. These are on the north, south, and west sides of the vault, and were the only part of the substructure visible in 1921. (They remain visible today; you can just see them in this image.) Four rectangular marble pieces form the actual base of the memorial. These were mortared to the top of the plinth. A rectangular marble capstone with curved sides was placed on top of the base. The capstone was pierced with the a hole to permit the coffin to be lowered into through the base, through the plinth, and to the bottom of the grave vault. The bottom of the vault was lined with 2 inches of French soil, taken from various battlefields in France.
The World War I unknown was interred as scheduled on November 11, 1921. More than 100,000 people attended the ceremonies, including the Premier of France, Aristide Briand; the former Premier of France, Rene Viviani (who led France through the war); Marshal Ferdinand Foch (who was Commander in Chief of Allied Forces in France); President Warren G. Harding, former President William Howard Taft, and former President Woodrow Wilson. One thousand "gold star mothers" (women who had lost a son in the war) attended the ceremony, as did every single living Medal of Honor winner. The entire United States Cabinet was there, and so was the entire United States Supreme Court. Every member of the House and Senate was present (although they had to stand in the colonnade). A large number of military personnel also attended the dedication. These included General John Pershing, who had led American forces in Europe; Lieutenant General Nelson Miles, former Commanding General of the Army; Admiral of the Fleet David Richard Beatty of the United Kingdom; General Armando Diaz, Marshal of Italy; General Baron Alphonse Jacques de Dixmude of Belgium; Frederick Lambart, 10th Earl of Cavan, commander of British forces in Italy; Arthur Balfour, former Prime Minster of the United Kingdom; and Tokugawa, Prince of Japan. Also conspicuous was Chief Plenty Coups of the Crow Nation, in full battle regalia and headdress.
President Harding bestowed on the unknown soldier the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross (the latter was never awarded again). General Jacques presented the Croix de Guerre, Belgium’s highest military honor. (He took from his own chest the medal, which had been bestowed on him by King Albert.) Admiral Beatty bestowed the Victoria Cross, which had never before been given to a foreigner. Marshal Foch bestowed the Medaille Militaire and the Croix de Guerre with palm, France’s highest military honor. General Diaz gave the Gold Medal for Bravery, Prince Bibescu of Romania gave the Virtuta Militaire, Dr. Dedrich Stephenek of Czechoslovakia presented the Szechoslovakia War Cross, and Prince Lubomirski of Poland gave the Virtuti Militan. When the coffin was ready for lowering into the vault, Chief Plenty Coups removed his war bonnet and tenderly placed it and his coup-stick on the coffin. He raised his hands to the sky. "I place on this grave of this noble warrior this coup stick and this war bonnet," he said, "every eagle feather of which represents a deed of valor by my race. I hope that the Great Spirit will grant that these noble warriors have not given up their lives in vain and that there will be peace to all men hereafter." An artillery battery fired, and the coffin began to be lowered. An answering a battery of fire came from the ”USS Olympia”, an American destroyer lying at anchor in the Potomac River. "Taps" were played. Once the coffin lay on the floor of the vault, the centerpiece of the capstone was put in place and the tomb sealed.
But all that existed was the base. The actual cenotaph, which you see here, did not yet exist.
Congress authorized completion of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in July 1926. The Secretary of War held a design competition, with judges from Arlington National Cemetery, the American Battle Monuments Commission, and the Commission of Fine Arts. Only architects of national standing were permitted to enter the competition, and 74 submitted designs. Five were chosen as finalists, and required to submit plaster models of their proposals. Architect Lorimer Rich and sculptor Thomas Hudson Jones won the competition. Their design imitated a sarcophagus, but really was a solid block of marble. The design included a thin rectangular base to go on top of the existing capstone. Then there was the "die block" (the main monument), on top of which was a capstone. The die block featured Doric pilasters (fake columns) in low relief at the corners. On the east side (facing the Potomac River) was a sculpture in low relief of three figures, representing female Victory, Valor (male, to her left), and Peace (female). The north and south sides were divided into three sections by fluted Doric pilasters, with an inverted wreath on the upper portion of each section. On the west side (facing the amphitheater) was the inscription: "Here Rests In Honored Glory An American Soldier Known But To God." It is still not clear who came up with the phrase, but it had been used on crosses marking the graves of unknown soldiers in Europe as early as 1925. The judges asked that the approaches to the Tomb be improved as well. Clarence Renshaw designed the steps. The balustrade was removed, and the short series of steps extended outward and downward until they reached the lawn. A small landing exists two-thirds of the way down, after which the steps continue (wider than before). Congress approved funding for the memorial and new steps on February 29, 1929, and a contract to complete the Tomb was awarded on December 21, 1929. Quartermaster General Brig. Gen. Louis H. Bash oversaw the construction, which was done by Hegman and Harris.
The Vermont Marble Company provided the marble. This proved very problematic. The Yule Marble Quarry at Marble, Colorado, was chosen as the quarry. A year passed before suitable pieces of marble could be located at the quarry and mined. Three pieces had to be mined before a piece suitable for the 56-ton die block was found. Three pieces were mined and discarded before a fourth piece was found for the 18-ton base. But once the base arrived at Arlington, workers discovered an imperfection in the marble which caused it to be discarded. A fifth, sixth, and seventh piece of marble was then mined, but only the eighth piece was suitable and brought to the cemetery. Amazingly, a piece for the 14-ton capstone was found on the first try.
Work began on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in September 1931, but stopped for three months after a flaw in the base was found. Work resumed in December, and all three pieces were in place on December 31, 1931. Fabrication was completed on-site, with sculptor Jones working five days a week. The Tomb was completed and opened to the public on April 9, 1932. There was no dedication ceremony, and the memorial has never been officially named.
Unfortunately, the Tomb began to fall apart almost immediately. Chips and spalls (pieces broken off after heating and contracting) were found coming off the base in 1933. By 1963, a huge horizontal and secondary vertical crack had appeared in the die block — probably caused by the release of pressure after the marble was mined. Acid rain and pollution have caused the marble sculptures to wear down appreciably, such that today they are only about half as sharp as they once were. Although there is no likelihood that the monument will collapse, debate continues to rage as to whether the monument should be replaced.
Beginning on July 2, 1937, the U.S. Army began permanently stationing an honor guard at the Tomb. The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment ("The Old Guard") formally took over these duties on April 6, 1948. It is guarded 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year long. The guard is changed once every hour, on the hour. Out of respect for the dead, the guard carries his rifle on the outside shoulder — away from the Tomb. The guard is not permitted to speak or break his march, unless someone enters the restricted area around the Tomb. If this happens, the guard must come to a halt and bring his rifle (loaded with live ammunition) to port-arms. This is usually enough to make the person move back. (No one has ever gone further than the sharp slap of the rifle in the guard’s hands.)
In June 1946, Congress approved the burial of unknown American from World War II at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Thirteen American unknowns were exhumed from cemeteries in Europe and Africa and shipped to Epinal, France. Maj. Gen. Edward J. O’Neill, U.S. Army, chose one of these caskets on May 12, 1958, as the "trans-Atlantic Candidate unknown." This casket was transported by air to Naples and placed aboard the USS Blandy. Two American unknowns were disinterred from the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii and four American unknowns disinterred from Fort McKinley American Cemetery in the Philippines. The six unknowns were taken by air to Hickam Air Force Base. On May 16, 1958, Col. Glen Eagleston, U.S. Air Force, selected a "trans-Pacific Candidate unknown," which was placed aboard the USS Canberra. The Blandy and Canberra rendezvoused off Virginia in May 1958, at which time the trans-Pacific Candidate unknown was transferred to the Canberra. Hospitalman First Class William R. Charette, the Navy’s only active enlisted holder of the Medal of Honor, then placed a wreath at the foot of the casket on his right. (The other remains were buried at sea.) This individual became the World War II Unknown.
In August 1956, Congress approved the burial of a Korean War unknown at the Tomb. The remains of four unknown Americans from the Korean conflict were exhumed from the National Cemetery of the Pacific. On May 15, 1958, Master Sergeant Ned Lyle placed a wreath on the fourth casket to choose the Korean War Unknown. (The other three unknowns were reinterred in the National Cemetery of the Pacific.)
Because so much time had passed, the World War II and Korean War unknowns were chosen at the same time. The Unknown of Korea was transported aboard the Canberra at the same time as the "trans-Pacific Candidate unknown."
After the World War II Unknown was chosen, both the WWII and Korean War remains were taken back to the Blandy, which transported them to Washington, D.C. Like the World War I Unknown, they lay in state in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol. Both were interred in vaults on the west side of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Memorial Day, May 30, 1958. Rather than enlarge the WWI vault, new vaults were dug in the plaza on the west side of the Tomb.
Congress authorized the entombment of a Vietnam War casualty in 1973. But with advances in identification of remains, no unknown remains could be found. Pressure from Vietnam veterans’ groups was making the issue politically potent by the early 1980s, especially with Republican Ronald Reagan in office as president. And that’s where the scandal began… In May 1972, 24-year-old U.S. Air Force pilot Michael Blassie was shot down in South Vietnam close to the Cambodia border. In October 1972, American ground patrols found Blassie’s identity card, some American money, shreds of a USAF flight suit, and some skeletal remains near where Blassie went down. The I.D. card and money went missing soon thereafter. Pentagon officials declared the remains "likely to be" Blassie’s, but no firm identification was ever made. By 1980, only four sets of Vietnam War-era remains could be declared unidentified, and one of these were the Blassie remains. In 1980, for unknown reasons, an Army review board ruled that the bones were not Blassie’s. Soon thereafter, all documents in the file were removed and destroyed.
On May 8, 1984, the no-longer-"likely" remains were declared "unknown." The Vietnam Unknown was selected by Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Allan Jay Kellogg, Jr. (a Medal of Honor recipient) at Pearl Harbor on May 17, 1984. The unknown’s remains were transported by the USS Brewton to Alameda Naval Base in California. They arrived on May 23, 1984, and were transported by automobile to nearby Travis Air Force Base on May 24. The remains were transported by air to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on May 25, and lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda from May 25 to May 28. They were interred in a new vault in front of the Tomb on May 28, 1984. President Reagan presented the Medal of Honor to the unknown soldier.
The possibility that the remains were Blassie’s was first raised by a man investigating missing-in-action cases. The story broke into the press in January 1998, and in April the two U.S. Senators from Missouri and Blassie’s family were demanding answers. After a high-level Pentagon review, the Secretary of the Army recommended on April 26 that the remains be disinterred. The Secretary of Defense ordered exhumation on May 6, and the remains came above ground on May 13. A DNA sample was obtained from the remains on June 15, and on June 29 the remains were identified as Blassie’s. Blassie was buried in his home town of St. Louis on July 10, 1998, with handfuls of soil from Arlington National Cemetery. The following month, Blassie’s family asked to keep the Medal of Honor, but the Pentagon refused — saying it was intended to go to the unknown, not to Blassie (who had not won it). In June 1999, with no further unidentified Vietnam War remains available, Pentagon officials said they would keep the vault empty. The Vietnam War crypt was rededicated on September 16, 1999.
Interestingly, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier caused some major changes to D.C. as well as Arlington National Cemetery.
The final piece of "Arlington National Cemetery" as we know it today came with the construction of Arlington Memorial Bridge, Memorial Drive, and the Arlington Memorial Entrance in 1932. The bridge, the drive, and the entrance were designed as a single project and were dedicated on January 16, 1932 by President Herbert Hoover. The U.S. Commission on Fine Arts required that the bridge act as a symbolic link between North and South.
In fact, the famous McMillan Commission (which established the National Mall and set the locations of the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials) had proposed the bridge in 1901, but no action had been taken. When President Harding dedicated the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in 1921, so many people swarmed over Highway Bridge (now the 14th Street Bridges) that it caused a three-hour traffic jam! Harding’s own car had to abandon the roadway and take to the grass shoulder to get to the cemetery on time. Secretary of State Charles Evan Hughes had to walk across the bridge to make it.
The outcry over the feeble, inadequate bridges across the Potomac led to the construction of Memorial Bridge. Congress authorized its construction on February 24, 1925.
The legendary architectural firm of McKim, Meade & White — which built some of the most notable buildings of the 20th century, like the New York Public Library, Manhattan Municipal Building, Washington Arch in Washington Square, NYC’s Pennsylvania Station, the Algonquin Club in Boston, Boston Public Library, Rhode Island State House, Harvard Business School, the West Wing and East Wing of the White House, the National Museum of American History, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Bank of Montreal Head Office, and the American Academy in Rome — designed the bridge. The Neoclassical bridge is 2,163 feet long, with nine arches. It is made of reinforced concrete clad in North Carolina granite. At the time, extensive commercial river traffic used the Potomac River from the Great Falls of the Potomac (just upriver from Washington, D.C.) all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. The bridge was built with a draw span in the center to accommodate this traffic. (It still exists, but has been abandoned.)
Flanking the eastern ends of the bridge are two monumental Neoclassical equestrian statues. "The Arts of War" by Leo Friedlander stands on the bridge itself. As you face the bridge, "Valor" (a man riding a horse accompanied by a woman with a shield) is on the left and "Sacrifice" (a woman symbolizing the earth looks up at the god Mars on a horse) is on the right. Another set of equestrian statues adorns the entrance to Rock Creek Parkway, which is just to the north of Arlington Memorial Bridge. These are "The Arts of Peace" by James Earle Fraser. As you face the parkway, on the left is "Music and Harvest" (a winged horse paws the air between a man with a sheaf of wheat and a sickle and a woman with a harp). On the right is "Aspiration and Literature" (a winged horse Pegasus is flanked by a man holding a book and a woman holding a bow). Both sets of statues, which are each 17 feet tall and made of gilded bronze, were commissioned in 1925 but were not erected until 1951. They were cast in Italy — a gift to the people of the United States from the people of Italy.
The bridge ended in Washington Circle, and from there Memorial Drive connected the bridge to the cemetery gates. Along Memorial Drive are numerous memorials and monuments: the Seabees Memorial, the Armored Memorial, the United Spanish War Veterans Memorial (known as "The Hiker"), Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd monument, the 101st Airborne Division Memorial, and the 4 Infantry (IVY) Division Monument. (Today, the Arlington Cemetery station on Metro’s Blue Line is right next to the Seabees Memorial.)
Memorial Drive ends in the Hemicycle. Carved from the hillside that culminates in Arlington House, the Hemicycle is a Neoclassical semicircle 30 feet high and 226 feet in diameter. In the center is an apse 20 feet across and 30 feet high. In total, the Hemicycle covers 4.2 acres. The Hemicycle was constructed of reinforced concrete, but faced with granite from Mount Airy, Virginia. The walls range from 3 feet, 6 inches thick at the base to 2 feet, 6 inches at the top. The accent panels and coffers in the apse are inlaid with red Texas granite. The Great Seal of the United States is carved in granite in the center of the apse, while on either side are seals of the Department of the Army (south) and the Department of the Navy (north). Along the facade of the Hemicycle were 10 false doors or niches — some up to five feet deep, others just indentations in the wall — which were supposed to contain sculptures, memorial reliefs, and other monuments. The apse itself held a fountain, but that was supposed to be replaced with a major memorial in time.
But the Hemicycle is a dead end. You can’t stop and admire the apse. Instead, the road diverges here, north and south, passing through wrought iron gates. The north gate is the Schley Gate — named after Admiral Winfield Scott Schley, son of Civil War Commanding General Winfield Scott and hero of the Battle of Santiago Bay during the Spanish-American War. The south gate is the Roosevelt Gate, named for President Theodore Roosevelt. In the center of each gate, front and back, is a gold wreath 30 inches in diameter. Each wreath cradles the shield of one of the armed services that existed in 1932: The Marine Corps and Army on Roosevelt Gate, the Navy and Coast Guard on Schley Gate. (The Air Force did not exist until 1947.) Each gate is divided into 13 sections by wrought iron fasces, and above six of the sections are iron spikes topped by gold stars. The granite pillars at the end of the retaining wall and the pillars on each side of each gate are topped by granite funeral urns. Also on the granite pillar of each gate is a gilded lamp.
On top of the Hemicycle was a pedestrian walkway and a terrace some 24 feet wide. Originally, access to the walkway and terrace was granted only by going to the far end of the Hemicycle (near the wrought iron gates), through a pedestrian gate, and up some stairs. Above each arched entrance to the pedestrian stairs was a granite eagle. But this never actually happened: The pedestrian gates were locked for more than 50 years!
The Hemicycle was never actually completed. Intended to be Arlington National Cemetery’s ceremonial gate, it just….dead-ended. The apse and niches were never filled. There was nothing on the other side. There was no way to use the Hemicycle without crossing dangerous highways. Plop. There it is. Indeed, by the 1980s, the Hemicycle was in serious disrepair. It had never been used for any purpose, and Arlington officials largely ignored it.
Originally, the exterior rear wall of the Hemicycle was flat. But in the early 1980s, women veterans began pressing for a memorial to women in the armed services. In 1988, the National Capital Memorial Commission, the National Capital Planning Commission, and the Fine Arts Commission approved the use of the Hemicycle as a site for the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. It was the first time a memorial to the living — rather than the dead — had been placed on the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery. Marion Gail Weiss and Michael Manfredi won a national design competition for the memorial, and the National Capital Planning Commission and the Commission of Fine Arts voted unanimously for this design on April 6, 1995. The memorial was built in 1997.