Arlington National Cemetery trip filled with reminders of family and home

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on a rainy, cold December day.
David Krause / The Aspen Times

Sometimes we can get tone deaf or tune out the noise that comes out of our nation’s capitol.

Last week, I made a trip to the Washington, D.C., area, but never crossed the Potomac. It was the first time in 25 years that I’ve been to area, and this time it was a quick in-and-out trip for a family funeral at Arlington National Cemetery.

My aunt (mom’s sister) passed away in March, and my uncle (an Air Force veteran who was stationed around the world) has been working on the paperwork for months to have Aunt Nancy inurned where he will be placed. Once he got the all-clear, we had about three weeks to rally our troops to get there.

Certainly the cold, dreary weather that day added to the mood, but as soon as you walk into the cemetery, you are reminded of the sobering power of the site.

“Welcome to Arlington National Cemetery. Our nation’s most sacred shrine. Please conduct yourself with quiet dignity and respect at all times. Remember, these are hallowed grounds.”

In our suits and using umbrellas borrowed from the hotel, my brother and I made the 15-minute walk in a cold downpour to the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. We arrived just in time for the changing of the guard.

If that won’t make you forget the rhetoric coming from the other side of the river, not much else will.

The marble used for the sarcophagus, as many around here are well aware, was mined at the quarry just on the other side of the Elk Mountains in Marble. According to the display at Arlington, the quarrying included nearly 75 men and took a year to complete. The tomb is made up of seven pieces of marble and was fabricated in Vermont and sent from there to Arlington by train in 1931.

We quietly walked back to the visitors’ center as the rain intensified, and about an hour later, our family from around the country huddled under umbrellas in the courtyard of the columbarium. After a few words by a chaplain, the ceremony was over. It was short and sweet, which perfectly describes my aunt.

The heavy rain never relented, but none of us cared. We joked that it was those who have gone before us — my mother’s dad who survived the South Pacific in World War II and her brother a Marine in Vietnam — having a good laugh. Afterward, our family went to a quaint restaurant for an early dinner then went our separate ways. I was on a plane back to Aspen early the next morning.

It was a good lesson in that no matter how far we are from family or when we venture far from home, we’re reminded of how connected we are … no matter the chatter in the District.