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A walk through history for Veterans Day in Arlington, Virginia
By Tom Adkinson

(Editor’s note: This is one in a series of travel stories spotlighting destinations and activities to consider in a time of coronavirus and to inspire safe outings elsewhere.)

arlington marine memorial
The Marine Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, is one of the most accessible destinations in metropolitan Washington, D.C. Image by Tom Adkinson.

ARLINGTON, Virginia – Many Americans seem to conflate Veterans Day (always November 11) and Memorial Day (always the last Monday in May), but that’s okay in this city immediately across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.

That’s because Arlington is home to two of the most famous symbols of American military service – the U.S. Marine Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery – plus the Netherlands Carillon, a touching symbol of gratitude for Americans’ service overseas. All three are within walking distance of each other.

arlington memorial funeral cortege
A funeral cortege proceeds through the solemn stillness of Arlington National Cemetery. Image by

Veterans Day, originally Armistice Day, honors everyone who has worn an American uniform, whether in conflict or in peacetime, while Memorial Day is a day to reflect on those who gave their lives in service to the nation. The Department of Defense notes that Veterans Day “is largely intended to thank living veterans for their service.”

The marking of Veterans Day every Nov. 11 carries great symbolism. That’s because it is tied to the armistice that ended conflict in World War I on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918.

arlington memorial cemetery carillon
The people of the Netherlands gave this 49-bell carillon as a thank-you for America’s role in freeing their nation in World War II. Image by Tom Adkinson.

It became a federal holiday in 1938, a day dedicated to world peace, according to an explanatory article from the Veterans Administration. It changed from Armistice Day to Veterans Day in 1954 after veterans’ service organizations promoted its expansion because of World War II and the Korean conflict.

There was confusion for a period when Congress passed a law to make Veterans Day and other holidays fall on a Monday, but national sentiment prevailed, and President Gerald Ford signed a law in 1975 cementing it on November 11, regardless of the day of the week.

arlington memorial cemetery uncommon valor
This salute and the names of every conflict in which Marines served are on the base of the Marine Corps Memorial. Image by Tom Adkinson.


Even during a pandemic, expect respectful citizens to visit the Marine Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery and to be serenaded by the Netherlands Carillon, which is located between the two. The 49-bell carillon was a gift to the U.S. from the people of the Netherlands in gratitude for America’s help during and after World War II. It was dedicated in 1960, the 15th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands from Nazi occupation.

The Marine statue, which depicts the raising of the American flag on Iwo Jima’s Mt. Suribachi in World War II, benefitted from a $5.37 million spit-and-polish renovation project that was completed in February, just in time for the 75th anniversary of the actual event. Renovation funding came from philanthropist David Rubenstein to honor his father’s Marine Corps service.

Inscribed on the base of the memorial are the principal conflicts in which Marines have served, starting in 1775. The American flag flies over the memorial 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. More than 1.5 million people visit it each year.

arlington memorial cemetery view of washington dc
Views across the Potomac River from Arlington include the lineup of the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol. Image by Tom Adkinson.

Arlington National Cemetery, resting place for more than 300,000 veterans of every American conflict, touches many layers of our history. It surrounds a mansion built by the step-grandson of George Washington and once home of Robert E. Lee. Its first graves were dug by James Parks while Lee was still commanding the Confederate army. Parks, born a slave on the property, was buried here with full military honors.

Veterans Day is an especially powerful day to reverently walk through the cemetery, observe the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns and ponder the service and sacrifice of all veterans.

Trip Planning Resources:, and

(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s new book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available at

Published November 6, 2020

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