Arlington National Cemetery


Around the end of March each year, a group of about 30 people dressed in work boots and work clothes converge on Arlington National Cemetery.

Arlington National Cemetery & NAFCA

The sign at the visitors center sets the tone.

Along with these folks come some heavy machinery, work trucks, materials, a mobile home and a ton of passion for the work.

Arlington National Cemetery & NAFCA

One of the crews ready and willing to put in a hard days work.

The group in question are all volunteers who belong to the North American Fence Contractors Association or NAFCA. I was proud to have been a part of the event.

Their mission is to tear down and replace the fencing around the cemetery with new fence to help with the up-keep of the grounds. I believe this is the 6th year for the event and I have been fortunate enough to have attended four of them.

Arlington National Cemetery & NAFCA

This patriotic display has become the symbol for NAFCA. The wood is part of a cherry tree that the fence was embedded in. The tree had to be carefully sliced to allow the fence to be installed. The display was made with the Flag, some of the fence, a couple of medallions from the administration and the shell casings from a 21 gun salute. The display is on show every year.

 

Arlington National Cemetery & NAFCA

The medallion for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Once everything is set up and everyone has been briefed on their activities for the day, the work to install 300 feet of aluminum and iron fence between two teams begins.

Arlington National Cemetery & NAFCA

The old chain link fence will be replaced with a donated aluminum fence and iron fence. The roots of the tree have grown around the post, and the trunk has lifted the top rail.

 

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The old fence is removed, sparks fly, Ron keeps his back to us, cherry trees bloom, tour groups pass by at a distance and the headstones seem to go on forever.

NAFCA Arlington
Bill operates the machine from inside while Jim gets soaked from the brief rain shower as he augers the new post holes.

Arlington National Cemetery & NAFCA

Not all holes are dug with a machine; the back-breaking task still has to be done by hand around some of the old trees.

Arlington National Cemetery & NAFCA

Cody, Tyler and Michelle made sure we had supplies, and the motorized wheelbarrow from Shane made life a bit easier.

 

Arlington National Cemetery & NAFCA

Measuring for the new post holes and cutting out the old post.

 

Arlington National Cemetery & NAFCA

Mark and Marge connecting the panels. Marge had to crack the whip a few times to keep Mark in line!

 

Arlington National Cemetery & NAFCA

Out in the parking lot its time for lunch. Judy and Mary put on a great spread as we all stop for a well-deserved break. Mart got first dibs on the ever popular baked beans casserole.

 

Arlington National Cemetery & NAFCA

After lunch it’s back to work. Scott, the Project Organizer oversees the work while others catch up on each other’s news.

The fun and fellowship is wonderful, but all the time we are working there are solemn reminders of where we are. The Cemetery conducts between 27 and 30 services each weekday and between six and eight each Saturday.

As we work, we often hear the bugler playing Taps as the wind drifts his notes towards us. The 21 gun salute sounded several times while we were there, and of course the headstones run in straight uniform lines in every direction.

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The fence is finished, the film crew is wrapping it up and all that’s left it the clean up.

 

Dennis and Angela start the clean up!

Arlington National Cemetery & NAFCA

The finished product, along with Washington’s famous Cherry Blossoms.

When the work is finished and we clean up a little, it’s time for a tour of the Cemetery.

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Each headstone is 48″ long and weighs around 250 pounds. The total count the guide gave us was an astounding 400,000 headstones, on a 200 acre property

A little bit of Arlington National Cemetery history:

The land once belonged to George Washington Parke Curtis, grandson of Martha Washington and step-grandson of George Washington. In 1857, Curtis willed the 1,100 acre property to his daughter Mary Anna Randolph Curtis, who was married to Robert E. Lee.

After the Lee family vacated the estate in 1861 at the onset of the Civil War, federal troops occupied the property as a camp and headquarters.

In 1863, the government established Freedman’s Village on a portion of the estate as a way to assist slaves transitioning to freedom. The Village provided housing, education, training, and medical care.

As the number of Civil War casualties was outpacing other local Washington D.C.-based cemeteries , the property became a burial location,

The first military burial took place on May 13th, 1864 for Private William Christian.

On June 15th, 1864 the War Department officially set aside approximately 200 acres of the property to use as a cemetery.

 

NAFCA and Arlington National Cemetery

NAFCA and Arlington National Cemetery

NAFCA and Arlington National Cemetery

NAFCA and Arlington National Cemetery

Nurses Memorial.

 

NAFCA and Arlington National Cemetery

A 150 year old Himalayan cedar tree

 

NAFCA and Arlington National Cemetery

It was a perfect day of fellowship and working to give something back to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

Arlington National Cemetery is steeped in history and well worth a visit. For more information on NAFCA, visit their website and become a part of this proud group.

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