A Color Guide to America’s Most Famous Cemetery
John F. Blair Publisher, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, 2017, 242 pages
Book Review published on: September 8, 2017
What do five five-star flag officers, two presidents, twelve U.S. Supreme Court justices, and nineteen astronauts have in common? They are all interred in our nation’s most hallowed ground, Arlington National Cemetery. In Arlington: A Color Guide to America’s Most Famous Cemetery, six-time author and four-time awardee James Gindlesperger offers a beautiful tribute to Arlington National Cemetery. His objective in writing this book was:
My hope is that these stories are sufficient in numbers to provide an idea of what those who went before us have done, and that they will pique the readers’ interest enough to allow reflection and respect for the others interred here as well. Arlington National Cemetery is a microcosm of our nation’s history. We owe it to those who shaped that history, and to ourselves, to learn more about it.
Gindlesperger begins by providing the history of the cemetery, tracing its origin to the Virginia governor’s six-thousand-acre payment to Welsh sea captain Robert Howson for transport of 116 passengers from Europe in 1669. He describes the progression of ownership starting with Howson’s 1778 sale of 1,100 acres to the adopted son of George Washington, John Parke Custis, and ending with the U.S. government purchasing the property in 1883 from Mary Ann Randolph Custis Lee, wife of Robert E. Lee, for $150,000 ($3.5 million in 2017 dollars).
Gindlesperger details many interesting facts that the average citizen likely may not know. There are over four hundred thousand souls buried across 640 acres, visited by over three million annually. The first burial, Pvt. William Christman of the 67th Pennsylvania Infantry died of what we would today call disease and nonbattle injury, and was interred on 13 May 1864. The first soldier to be buried as a result of combat was Pvt. William Blatt of the 49th Pennsylvania Volunteers. He was severely wounded on 13 May 1864 during the Spotsylvania Courthouse Campaign and succumbed to his wounds. Blatt was buried on 14 May 1864. Today, there are on average twenty-eight burials per day.
Gindlesperger tells the stories of 250 burials, ranging from famous flag officers to ordinary citizens. Examples include civil rights activist Medgar W. Evans, three of the six marines who raised the U.S. flag over Iwo Jima, the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Omar N. Bradley, the father of the nuclear Navy Hyman “H. G.” Rickover, the first African American Army General Officer Benjamin O. Davis Sr. (and his son, U.S. Air Force Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., of Tuskegee Airmen fame), the most decorated World War II soldier Audie Murphy, actor Lee Marvin, and former heavyweight champion of the world Joe Louis.
Second only to the stories of our nation’s heroes that Gindlesperger captures is the story of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Gindlesperger does a wonderful job describing the history of the Tomb and how the unknown soldiers were selected for this burial in the most revered location in the cemetery.
As the subtitle states, Gindlesperger’s book is also a guide. It is organized with the visitor in mind. The maps are clear and the chapters are logically organized as if one was walking through the grounds, and he includes global positioning satellite coordinates to each of the 250 stories he tells. In addition, there are over 250 beautiful photographs of the cemetery grounds, graves, and memorials providing the reader context for his visit, whether it be just reading the book or actually visiting the cemetery.
Arlington: A Color Guide to America’s Most Famous Cemetery is a must read for anyone interested in Arlington National Cemetery and the intriguing stories of some who are interred there. It would also serve as a very good orientation before a visit. Most importantly, however, Gindlesperger’s work reminds us of the sacrifice that a few citizens made for the preservation and survival of our democracy.
Book Review written by: David D. Haught, Fort Belvoir, Virginia