One-hundred-fifty years ago today, May 15, 1864, the United States military buried two unknown soldiers.
It wasn’t the first time the military had buried unknown war dead, but it was the first of such burials on a Virginia hillside above the Potomac River overlooking Washington, D.C., on land owned by descendants of President George Washington’s wife, Martha Custis.
Prior to the start of the Civil War, the land was maintained, but not owned, by the superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy, Robert E. Lee, through his marriage into the family that owned the Arlington Plantation.
The May 15 burial of the unknown soldiers came two days after the first military burial on the 1,100 acre estate, that of Pvt. William Christman of the 67th Pennsylvania Infantry who died of measles. The next day, the first military casualty was interred, Pvt. William Blatt of the 49th Pennsylvania Infantry.
A month later, part of the estate officially became a national cemetery. Since then, it has become the final resting place for more than 400,000 active duty service members, veterans and their families.
While West Virginia celebrated its 150th anniversary with a series of commemorations last year, Arlington National Cemetery will host a series of special events from now through June to honor the traditions, remember the sacrifice and explore the history of the cemetery on its 150th anniversary.
The commemoration concludes with a wreath laying on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on June 15th,, the day Arlington officially became a national cemetery.
In the middle of that period of commemoration comes Memorial Day, May 26, when Americans everywhere remember and honor the sacrifices of the men and women who died while in military service, serving the goal of keeping our citizens free.
Information about Arlington at 150 events can be found at www.arlingtoncemetery.mil.
Let us never forget, nor take for granted, the sacrifices of men and women, known and unknown, who died in service to keep America free.