Riding the DC Metro back from Arlington National Cemetery, a young boy approached two Marines and held out his hand. “Thank you for your service,” he told them. The two Marines smiled and nodded. The young boy went back to sit with his dad who was wearing a T-shirt, the back emblazoned with his unit in Vietnam. It was that kind of day, a time to reach out and thank those who serve and remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
The crowds at Arlington National Cemetery grew as the day wore on, despite the blistering heat. Those who forgot water bottles crowded around the water fountains, anything to stay hydrated. Cell phones were employed, not to talk or text, but to capture the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider.
Rolling Thunder, an annual motorcycle rally calling for the government to recognize and protect prisoners of war and those missing in action, was in full force. Motorcycles lined the roadway leading up to the cemetery’s entrance.
Now celebrating its 25th anniversary, the rally had a full weekend of events, including a candle light vigil at the Vietnam Memorial. When Rolling Thunder began in 1988, 2,500 people participated. This year’s rally was expected to attract more than 900,000 people.
The scale of Arlington National Cemetery is overwhelming, covering nearly 625 acres, the many gravestones seeming to go on for miles. The cemetery performs between 27 and 30 funerals each day. The mission of the cemetery is simple yet profound:
On behalf of the American people, lay to rest those who have served our nation with dignity and honor, treating their families with respect and compassion, and connecting guests to the rich tapestry of the cemetery’s living history, while maintaining these hallowed grounds befitting the sacrifice of all those who rest here in quiet repose.