Arlington Visitors Should Dress for Hallowed Ground

by Bob Greene
All Things Considered, June 22, 2007
As Heard On National Public Radio

You seldom see a necktie inside Arlington National Cemetery.

For that matter, you don't often see a dress.

I suppose that shouldn't seem so surprising. We live in a casual age; formality often seems not just endangered, but extinct.

And Arlington National Cemetery, especially in summer, can be very hot.

But somehow — as you spend time among the more than 300,000 souls who are buried in the cemetery near the Potomac River — you can't help feeling that we who visit can do a little better. If anyone has earned our decorum, it's those 300,000.

What do you see when you're there?

In Arlington National Cemetery you see women in cut-off blue jeans. You see young people walking past the headstones with their mouths moving to the songs being pumped into their ears by their iPods.

You see men in T-shirts with gag messages. One of the T-shirts I saw said: “The only reason I'm nodding is I hope you'll go away.” Another — worn by a fellow in a cowboy hat — showed a picture of a handgun, accompanied by the words: “I don't call 9-1-1.” A tough guy, apparently — amid the graves of some men who were truly tough.

There are cell phones everywhere. Next to the headstones of soldiers whose names you've never heard, next to the eternal flame of John F. Kennedy. People calling their offices, chatting with friends.

The odd thing is, they seem genuinely not to know they're being disrespectful. This is just another tourmobile stop — or so they seem to believe.

I mentioned that you seldom see neckties, seldom see dresses. There are times, though, when you do. They are worn by families who come to this place not as tourists — but to bury their own soldiers. Soldiers who have come home from our current war.

There are signs at the entrance. They say:

“Welcome to Arlington National Cemetery … Our Nation's Most Sacred Shrine. Please Conduct Yourself with Dignity and Respect at All Times. Please Remember These Are Hallowed Grounds.”

You wouldn't think we'd need reminding.

Commentator Bob Greene is the author of And You Know You Should Be Glad: A True Story of Lifelong Friendship. He lives in Chicago.

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