Arlington National Cemetery

Description And Comments

    Not to Be Missed:
  • Tomb of the Unknowns
  • Iwo Jima Memorial
  • John F. Kennedy grave

Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place for more than 400,000 Americans, the vast majority from the country’s military branches. In addition, it is home to memorials to civilians whose actions or sacrifice also bring honor to the United States in combat or other service. Its 624 acres of gravestones, tombs, mausoleums, and monuments are a visual reminder of the human cost of America’s place in the world.

Arlington Cemetery was created in 1864 by the American government during the U.S. Civil War. By that time, the conflict had produced enough dead to fill the two other nearby cemeteries used for military burials, and the U.S. was looking for more land. That came in the property belonging to former U.S. General Robert E. Lee, who had betrayed the U.S. by siding with the Confederate States in the war. The U.S. military seized the Lee family’s land and began burials within a few weeks. Lee’s family was eventually restored ownership in 1882 and they sold the land back to the government in 1883. Lee’s home – Arlington House - still stands inside the cemetery and is open for tours.

Arlington Cemetery receives more than 4 million visitors per year. Its most popular monuments, described below, are the graves of the Kennedy family, the Tomb of the Unknowns, and the Iwo Jima Memorial. In addition to these, Arlington’s residents include hundreds of well-known figures, from baseball’s supposed inventor (and Civil War general) Abner Doubleday, to boxer (and U.S. Army sergeant) Joe Louis. Stop by the Welcome Center for help in locating a particular gravesite.

The tombs of President John F. Kennedy, wife Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, two of their children, and the President’s brothers Robert and Edward, are buried in section 45. Although all U.S. Presidents are eligible for burial at Arlington because of their status as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, Kennedy is one of only two to be located here. The other is William Howard Taft, who, after his term as President went on to become the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Taft is the only person to lead two branches of the government.

The Tomb of the Unknowns is in section 35 in the southern part of the cemetery. It contains the remains of one unidentified U.S. military service member from each of three wars: World Wars I and II, and the Korean War. It had previously also held remains from an unidentified Vietnam casualty who was later identified through DNA testing and reinterred near his family’s home. Because of the possibility of DNA testing, no remains of any Vietnam veteran are yet interred in the tomb.

Soldiers from the U.S. Army guard the Tomb of the Unknowns around the clock. Changing of the guard happens every 30 minutes while the park is open in the summer, every hour while open in winter, and every 2 hours after park closing.

The U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, better known as the Iwo Jima Memorial, sits just outside the north end of the cemetery, past section 27 and across Marshall Drive. Its design is based on the famous photograph taken by reporter Joe Rosenthal on February 23, 1945, showing six American men raising the U.S. flag on Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II. The memorial was opened in 1954 and is dedicated to all U.S. Marines who have died in service.

General John J. Pershing commanded the U.S. Army during World War I, and, in his early military career, also fought in America’s wars with Spain and in the Philippines; chased Poncho Villa through Mexico; and served as an observer in the 1904-5 war between Russia and Japan. His leadership influenced the next generation of military brass, which fought in World War II. Also buried at Arlington is one of Pershing’s aides, General George Marshall, who fought in that war, later became Secretary of State, and helped rebuild Europe through the plan that bore his name.

Touring Tips

The easiest way to see Arlington’s highlights is by taking one of the guided bus tours from the Welcome Center. Tours cost $12 for adults, $9 for seniors, $6 for children 4-12, and are free for children under age 4. Discounts are available for active and retired military personnel and their guests – check the website for details.

Buses depart about every 20 minutes starting at 8:30 AM. The last bus leaves 1 hour before closing. Tours offer a small amount of narration, and you can hop on and off the bus at various locations whenever you want. The tour makes weekday stops near the Tomb of the Unknowns; the Kennedy graves; Arlington house, former home of Robert E. Lee; the Ord & Weitzel gate near the Iwo Jima Memorial; the U.S. Coast Guard Memorial; and General John J. Pershing's gravesite. Weekend tours include all of the weekday stops plus the September 11 Memorial, and sections 55 and 60 (Iraq/Afghanistan).


Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington, Virginia
Arlington, Virginia
Arlington Cemetery

Oct 1 - Mar 31 8am-5pm
Apr 1 - Sep 30 8am-7pm

Free to walk; Guided bus tour $12