Honoring Arlington

A salute to the 150th anniversary of Arlington National Cemetery.

BY CALLY JAMIS VENNARE

U.S. Army veteran Richard Pittsinger served as a distinguished Tomb Guard at Arlington National Cemetery in the 1950s.

Arlington National Cemetery has a rich legacy as one of our national treasures. It serves as the final resting place for more than 400,000 service members, veterans and their families from all branches of the military. “Although not officially a cemetery until 1864, we have veterans from every one of America’s conflicts, beginning with the American Revolution,” says command historian Dr. Stephen Carney. Arlington is still an active cemetery, conducting nearly 7,000 services per year.

If you listen closely, the unmistakable sound of Taps might guide you from the evocative eternal flame, marking the gravesite of President John F. Kennedy, to the majestic Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, guarded day and night by the distinguished Tomb Guard sentinel, or Old Guard. Considered to be the very best of the elite 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, the Old Guard is the oldest active-duty infantry unit in the Army, serving our nation since 1784.

Sunglasses gleaming, shoes shining, uniform pressed and fitted to perfection, each guard marches 21 steps behind the Tomb, pausing for 21 seconds before turning and repeating the process. Back and forth, stoic and proud. Footsteps always clicking in sync with the number 21, symbolic of the highest honor that can be bestowed upon the American soldier “Known But to God”: the 21-gun salute.

Beyond the Tomb, more sights and sounds remain to be seen, including the open-air Memorial Amphitheatre, where crowds gather to hear performances and dedications, and wreath-laying ceremonies that pay respect to our nation’s fallen heroes. It’s no wonder that Arlington National Cemetery hosts over three million visitors each year, including dignitaries from around the world. After 150 years, its significance and legacy remain stronger than ever.

A MUSICAL TRIBUTE: Scott Eyerly’s Arlington Sons illuminates a universal experience—the changing of the guard between generations—in a uniquely American context. The 12-minute duet by bass-baritone David Pittsinger and his son Richard honors David’s late father, a U.S. Army veteran who served as a distinguished Tomb Guard at Arlington National Cemetery in the 1950s. It is believed to be the first-ever musical work written for a real-life father and son.

Following premiere performances with the West Point Band and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and a release on iTunes earlier this year, Arlington Sons was praised by D.C. radio station Classical WETA: “Through this lyrical and intimate musical work, a family’s moment on a sunny hilltop becomes a loving lesson in honor, sacrifice and patriotism.”