The capital’s tribute to our nation’s heroes continues in Arlington, Virginia. Across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., Arlington memorials and landmarks include the Arlington National Cemetery, the Women in Military Service for America, the Marine Corps War Memorial and the Pentagon Memorial. Combine a tour of these and other memorials with a visit to Theodore Roosevelt Island, an oasis in the Potomac River devoted to Roosevelt and his legacy of national parks. Although you travel just 13 miles on this almost loop itinerary, allow a day to explore these interesting and sobering sites. A good way to end your tour is with a restorative walk amid the greenery and great District views of Theodore Roosevelt Island.
Morning: Our Nation’s Heroes at Arlington National Cemetery
Start at Arlington National Cemetery, where you’ll likely spend the most time. Here, rows of gravestones stitch themselves across rolling green lawns where more than 400,000 people are buried, including soldiers from every U.S. military conflict from the Revolutionary War to the War on Terrorism. When walking through the cemetery, you may hear shots fired and Taps played, part of the honor ritual for the 28 interments that occur each weekday and for the six to eight that take place on weekends.
At the Welcome Center, obtain maps and the location of specific sites. The most well-known is the Tomb of the Unknowns, a.k.a. Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a moving tribute to the many soldiers who died unidentified. Despite crowds of onlookers during the changing of the guard, the sounds you hear are the clicks of the guards’ spit-polished shoes as they conduct a short march. The tomb holds the remains of three unknown soldiers but represents so much more.
The grave site of John F. Kennedy with its eternal flame also contains the graves of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy as well as those of Robert and Edward Kennedy. Other notable sites include the U.S. Coast Guard Memorial and Arlington House, open but without furnishings because of renovations. Supreme Court justices, space explorers, Medal of Honor recipients, explorers and sports figures are also buried at the cemetery.
The Marine Corps War Memorial, commonly called the Iwo Jima Memorial lies less than 2-miles northwest of Arlington National Cemetery. The iconic sculpture depicts five marines and one Navy corpsman raising a large American flag after the capture of Iwo Jima during World War II.
About 2-miles southwest, the Women In Military Service for America Memorial pays tribute to all women who have served in the military from as far back as the Revolutionary War-era when women disguised themselves as men in order to serve. Dedicated in 1997, the building itself is a monument, a curve of stone carved with inspirational quotes, and a glass roof etched with more.
Afternoon: Arlington memorials and landmarks
For a quick lunch, head to the food court at Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, a.k.a. Pentagon City Mall, a shopping center with 170 stores that’s about 3.8 miles southeast of the Women in Service memorial.
The Pentagon, less than 1-mile away, offers a limited number of 1-hour tours, which must be requested between 14 to 90-days in advance. You do not need a ticket to visit the Pentagon Memorial. Located just outside the Pentagon, the memorial honors the 184 people who died at the Pentagon when terrorists crashed an airplane into the building on September 11, 2001.
Travel less than 1-mile northwest to reach the Air Force Memorial Three simple spires rise elegantly, 270 feet into the sky, to evoke a feeling of flight and to honor the men and women of the Air Force.
About 3-miles north, in the middle of the Potomac River, Theodore Roosevelt Island, serves as an 88.5 acre respite from the big city. Nature trails and a 47-foot monument serve as tributes to Teddy, a nature lover famous for preserving much of our national parkland. The airplanes taking off and landing at nearby National Airport make for a noisy nature retreat, but the views are soothing.
If running low on time, consider rearranging the itinerary to visit the memorials open in the evening —the Pentagon Memorial, the Marine Corps War Memorial/Iwo Jima and the Air Force Memorial– after dinner. Beautifully lit at night, the structures can seem even more powerful after dark.