While I roamed Arlington National Cemetery on a day in late June, I took in my surroundings. People around me were sweating more water than they were drinking; animal sightings were rare as I suspected they were taking refuge from the scorching sun.; the clouds were hardly noticeable.
A bus carrying students from the National Student Leadership Conference came to a forceful halt, letting out a whining breath of steam. We had arrived at one of the Washington area’s most recognizable landmarks: Arlington National Cemetery.
First stop on the tour: John F. Kennedy’s grave. Students filed off the bus and darted towards the Eternal Flame. I tried to snap a decent picture but failed on account of the huge mob crowded around the flame. As a result, I stepped back and snapped a few shots of the crowd.
While peaking through my viewfinder, I noticed a girl leaning over, tying her shoe on a low wall that clearly said “Do Not Touch Wall.” I rolled my eyes. Behind me I heard low muffled screaming, so I turned my camera in that direction. I saw a teenager bobbing his head along to whatever mainstream pop song was blasting from his iPod. My eyebrows knit together in frustration, but I brushed it off and headed back to the bus.
Next stop: Arlington Memorial Theater. Once again I filed off the bus behind everyone. I observed as people rushed in through the archway. There was a throne-like seat at the front of the theater, and of course, everyone had to get a picture in it. I sat down on one of the benches encircling the stage at the front.
I pulled out my camera and snapped a shot of a boy who dared to run across the top of the white marble benches. Nothing had ever really made my jaw drop before that moment. Once I recovered, I noticed my group was making its way to the back side of the memorial where the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier lied.
Unfazed by the armed marching soldier in front of them, some people did not understand the magnitude of the event unfolding before them. One girl loudly chomped on her gum. One man dozed off against a wall. One boy played a game on his Nintendo DS. The soldier finally addressed the crowd to say that the wreath laying ceremony would begin. During the ceremony nothing was audible. Except for the shutters of all the cameras. One specific shutter said, “say cheese.”
Back to the bus. On the final part of the tour our guide pointed out section 60. Buses were not allowed to enter this section because it was where Afghanistan veterans were buried, and families were still grieving there. Noise from the buses would be very disrespectful.
Arlington is the only national cemetery in the United States that represents soldiers from every American war. It has more than 400,000 military veterans, as well as two presidents, buried there. This site deserves respect, and that is why it was confounding to see people being outright rude and inconsiderate to the men and women associated with the cemetery throughout the whole tour.
My tour ended back at the entrance. I reflected on my day. Had I really seen all of that at a cemetery? But disrespect like this is not only seen at Arlington. I have seen it at churches, schools, and in the presence of some very important people. Is disrespect becoming a growing epidemic in society?