JENIFER LEIGH VAN VLECK

Ida Lewis, "The Bravest Woman in America"

By JENIFER LEIGH VAN VLECK on 3/31/2022

Ida Lewis, the namesake of Arlington National Cemetery’s Lewis Drive, was once known as “the bravest woman in America.” Lewis served as an official lighthouse keeper for the U.S. Lighthouse Service (later absorbed into the Coast Guard) from 1879 until her death, at age 69, in 1911. 

Medal of Honor Recipients Lay Wreath at Tomb of Unknown Soldier

By JENIFER LEIGH VAN VLECK on 3/29/2022

On National Medal of Honor Day, March 25, 2022, two Vietnam veterans, with Medals of Honor draped around their necks, laid a wreath from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society at Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The two men together symbolized the opening and closing of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Barney Barnum, a retired colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps, earned his medal on December 18, 1965, as American grounds troops began arriving in South Vietnam. Brian Thacker, who served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army, earned his on March 31, 1971, as U.S. troops gradually withdrew from the country.

USS Oklahoma Sailor Buried at Arlington National Cemetery

By JENIFER LEIGH VAN VLECK on 3/25/2022

Seaman 1st Class Walt Stein’s life was cut short on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The 20-year-old sailor from Cheyenne, Wyoming, was serving onboard the battleship USS Oklahoma when Japanese torpedo bombers struck the ship multiple times. The Oklahoma quickly capsized, killing 429 crewmen, including Stein. But his body remained unidentified, leaving his family to wonder about his fate for decades.

Honoring the Life and Legacy of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

By JENIFER LEIGH VAN VLECK on 3/14/2022

It is fitting that one of the most important women in American history had a birthday in March, Women’s History Month. Ruth Bader Ginsburg — Supreme Court justice, cultural icon, and indefatigable champion of gender equality — was born on March 15, 1933. She is buried in Section 5 of Arlington National Cemetery, next to her husband, Martin Ginsburg, an attorney and U.S. Army veteran.   

Army Band Members Honor Musician Lt. James Reese Europe

By JENIFER LEIGH VAN VLECK on 3/1/2022

On February 22, 2022, a small group of soldiers — some in black coats with gold lanyards and red service caps, others in World War I period “doughboy” uniforms — gathered at the grave of Lieutenant James Reese Europe. They were there for a ceremony to honor the anniversary of his birthday, in 1881. Europe, a renowned musical innovator, served as a Black officer in the segregated U.S. Army during World War I. He led the band for the 369th Infantry Regiment, the famed “Harlem Hellfighters.”

Braving the Cold, Collecting Wreaths

By JENIFER LEIGH VAN VLECK on 1/25/2022

Despite the 12-degree temperatures on the morning of January 22, 2022, people roamed through Arlington National Cemetery removing wreaths from headstones. To these volunteers, braving the cold weather to collect wreaths was only a small sacrifice. To them, it was way to honor those who sacrificed all.

The United States Coast Guard and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

By JENIFER LEIGH VAN VLECK on 1/7/2022

Since its creation in 1921, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier has become a symbol of valor and sacrifice during wartime. The Coast Guard has participated in all three of the ceremonies connected to interments at the Tomb—an acknowledgement of the numerous unrecoverable and unidentifiable Coast Guard service members lost over the years who are memorialized at the Tomb.

A Tragedy After the Unknown’s Funeral: Charles Whittlesey and the Costs of Heroism

By JENIFER LEIGH VAN VLECK on 11/17/2021

On November 24, 1921, two weeks after he and other Medal of Honor recipients participated in the funeral of the Unknown Soldier, Colonel Charles Whittlesey boarded the S.S. Toloa, en route to Havana, Cuba from New York. At the beginning of the voyage, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. On November 26, around 11:30 PM, Whittlesey announced that he was retiring for the night. He was never seen or heard from again. 

Frank Witchey: The Maestro of the Trumpet

By JENIFER LEIGH VAN VLECK on 11/5/2021

As we commemorate the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier centennial, today we highlight one of the individuals who played—literally—a key role in the 1921 funeral ceremony: Army bugler Frank Witchey.

Graves B. Erskine: Marine Hero Who Commanded the Unknown Soldier’s Honor Guard

By JENIFER LEIGH VAN VLECK on 11/4/2021

In honor of the 246th birthday of the United States Marine Corps (USMC) on November 10, and the 100th anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on November 11, we highlight Graves B. Erskine, who is buried in Section 5 of the cemetery. A USMC World War I veteran and future general, then-Captain Erskine commanded the guard of honor that watched over the Unknown’s casket during its turbulent voyage from France to the United States aboard the USS Olympia from October 25 to November 9, 1921.