STATE 11: VIRGINIA
Most of what we saw in Virginia was what we could visit while staying just outside of DC, which we learned is often referred as the DMV area (DC, Maryland, Virginia).
So we apologize in advance to all Virginians because we weren’t able to explore much more beyond this area. But, we were certainly impacted by what we were able to see and are looking forward to getting back there again soon to explore more.
After our second day of the Virginia state project that was held at Alpha Industries’ headquarters in Chantilly, we quickly made it to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center | Air and Space Museum (which is an extension of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum) just thirty minutes before they closed.
Tyler is super fascinated by airplanes (and space) so I was happy we were able to stop by. He’s one of those people who select a window seat and stare outside the entire flight, looking back occasionally at the movie he originally selected. As you’ll recall from our Rhode Island journey, he even went flying with our project Veteran who was just receiving his pilot’s license, which was very against his mother’s wishes from back home in Michigan.
Side note — the museum’s security confiscated my pepper spray my mom gave me years and years ago during college. I didn’t even know I had it somewhere in the bottom of my bag. The guy told me if it really was that old it has probably expired and doesn’t work anymore.
All right, good to know, sorry I technically brought a weapon into the museum.
Anyway, they had all kinds of airplanes that I’m not even going to try to identify. Old, new, damaged, rebuilt, wooden, metal- you name it. I called my dad to ask him what type of plane he rode in during his time in the Navy. Turns out, they didn’t have that type of plane on display in the museum but I did have a nice time walking around naming all of the planes’ plaques to him.
Another thing we did in Virginia was visit Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day. Side note número dos- to those who may not know, the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day is:
Memorial Day takes place in the month of May and honors the memory of every service member who gave his or her life in our country’s wars.
Veterans Day takes place on November 11 and honors everyone who served in the U.S military. It’s not limited to people who were wounded or killed.
Visiting Arlington on Veterans Day was particularly special because it is the final resting place of all kinds of people with all sorts of service experiences. Before I go into what we saw that day, I think the history of Arlington is super interesting. This is from the Arlington National Cemetery website:
Arlington National Cemetery is comprised of land that once belonged to George Washington Parke Custis, grandson of Martha Washington and step-grandson of George Washington. Custis spent his life commemorating Washington and built Arlington House on the 1,100-acre plantation as a memorial to the first president. In 1857, Custis willed the property to his daughter Mary Anna Randolph Custis, who in 1831 had married U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Robert E. Lee.
After the Lee family vacated the property at the onset of the Civil War in 1861, federal troops used the land as a camp and headquarters – beginning on May 24, 1861. Throughout the war, three forts were constructed on the grounds as part of the overall defenses of Washington, D.C. In 1863, the government established Freedman’s Village on the estate as a way to assist slaves transitioning to freedom. The village provided housing, education, employment training, and medical care. A property tax dispute, amounting to just over $92.07 cost the Lee family their home and in January 1864, the U.S. government purchased the property for $26,800 at public auction. After Mary Lee’s death, her son, George Washington Custis Lee sued in 1882 for the return of the property, winning his case in front of the Supreme Court of the United States. Lee then sold the property, which by this time contained the graves of over 6,000 Union soldiers, to the federal government for $150,000.
By the third year of the Civil War, the increasing number of fatalities was outpacing the burial capacity of Washington, D.C. cemeteries. To meet this demand, 200 acres of Arlington plantation was set aside as a military cemetery. The first military burial took place on May 13, 1864, for Private William Christman of Pennsylvania. On June 15, the War Department officially designated this burial space a national cemetery, thus creating Arlington National Cemetery. By the end of the war, burials included thousands of service members as well as African-American Freedmen.
History is so all over the place, right? This place was once owned by the descendent of our first president and the dude that led the Confederate army then became a military camp during the Civil War, eventually housed a Freedman’s Village and is now the resting place of more than 400,000 men and women? Yeah, history is wild.
Arlington National Cemetery is huge. You go in knowing this but nothing can possibly prepare you for its size and scale. Your mind first focuses on what’s in front of you: white tombstones everywhere.
Then it clicks, every stone is at least two people, front and back of the grave. This isn’t including spouses buried with their partners. So you quickly do the math, or at least try to.
It’s unbelievable how many people served or were involved with the U.S. military. You hear and read statistics but you aren’t often faced with a visual of it all.
Walking around on that cool and crisp November morning, we got to see thousands of others walking around with us. There was an event hosted at the amphitheater and there were rumors that Vice President Pence and other leaders were walking around as well.
Eventually, we made our way to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier where another event was being held. Different organizations from across the country and world were paying their respects.
Walking further, we saw the gravesite of the Kennedy’s and the eternal flame. An elderly woman in an Air Force uniform passed me. She was tall like me and when I greeted her, her smile and reply back left an impact on me. This woman must’ve been one of very few females in the Air Force when she first joined. Her strength and presence was palpable. It was an incredible moment I won’t forget.
So, as you can see, we didn’t get an opportunity to venture too deeply into or around Virginia, but visiting Arlington alone is enough to leave a lasting impact, even if it is just barely across state lines.
*View the Virginia state project we facilitated with U.S. Army Veteran Steven Dean, Alpha Industries designer Stan S. Lee (no, not that Stan Lee), and videographer Chris Blackert and photographer Kiersten Ladzinski both from MPI.
Their collaborative design is entitled “Two Tales,” an illustrative expression of the dichotomies in Steven’s life in and out of the military. Through their design’s abstract silhouettes of a civilian and soldier, Steven and Stan hope to connect with others feeling broken, disconnected, and conflicted about the two versions of themselves, encouraging them to unite their renewed purpose and mission in life.