Driving Through Dixie, Part 6

FDR Memorial, Arlington Cemetery, Corcoran Art Gallery

 

Part 1. Across Miss., Ala., & Ga. to Atlanta

Part 5. Memorials for WW II, Korea and Viet Nam

Part 2. To Lynchburg & Appomattox Court House

Part 6. FDR Memorial, Arlington Cemetery and Corcoran

Part 3. General Lee’s Surrender Remembered

Part 7. Charleston and Fort Sumter

Part 4. Through Virginia to Arlington and D.C.

Part 8. Sweet Savannah & Dash Back to Memphis

 

Index to 62 Photos / Return to Nolan Travels Home Page / Page Updated 9-2-05

By Lewis Nolan

 

July 9, 2005, Saturday – In Arlington, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

 

At Casey’s urging, we walked a good ways from the crowds at the World War II Memorial on Washington’s busy Mall to another monument of recent vintage, the FDR Memorial.

 

We agreed with Casey’s assessment. The architectural design for the salute to the life and accomplishments of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Lewis & Casey by FDR statue
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is both powerful and spectacular. The memorial is on the quiet side of the Reflecting Pool and is a series of waterfalls, carefully laid blocks of granite and metal statues along a winding path 100 or more yards long. I am among the many Americans who consider Roosevelt to be the greatest President of the 20th Century for what he did to pull the nation out of the deep despair of the Depression.

 

FDR was also a great wartime president and a champion of liberty for all citizens and all nations. Several of his often quoted, epigrammatic remarks about the importance of civil rights, education, jobs for all and helping the poor are deeply engraved in the stone blocks that make up much of the memorial.

 

The FDR Memorial is a long way from the nearest Metro subway stop and quite a hike from the monuments on the opposite side of the Reflecting Pool. It doesn’t get anywhere near the visitors that the more accessible Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial or Viet Nam Memorial draw. That’s a shame because it is a moving and glorious tribute to a great President.

 

We walked across a wide expanse of grass - where a dozen or more 20-somethings were playing softball - to Casey’s SUV. Our next stop was Arlington National Cemetery, the final resting place for more than 300,000 patriots. Among them is my father, Lewis Earle Nolan, M.D.

 

The drive along the Parkway that passes by the 624-acre cemetery is beautiful. The Potomac River side of the lavishly landscaped roadway has 22 miles of cycling and jogging trails. We saw dozens of adults and children riding bikes plus as many as 50 kayaks and rowing sculls on the river. The parkway is an oasis of mowed grass, trees, shrubs and flowerbeds. The view of the Washington skyline across the river is just short of incomparable. The parkway’s easy accessibility to those who live nearby must mitigate the pain of the sky-high real estate prices and horrendous traffic in and around the upscale parts of the District of Columbia and vicinity.

 

I would certainly enjoy riding a bike on the smooth strip of asphalt. When Casey rides it occasionally, he has to be extra cautious because few recreational cyclists move at the speed he pushes his triathlon bike when training.

 

Once at the Arlington National Cemetery visitor center, I obtained a special parking pass that  allows vehicle entrance to the interior roads of the cemetery. The pass
Lewis by FDR's message statues
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is available to family members of those buried here. As it turned out, we decided to walk to the grave of my father. It was a trek through the quiet peace of hallowed ground. The distance was perhaps a mile over sometimes-steep grades.

 

Servicemen and their immediate family members occupy virtually all the graves in Arlington. There are an increasing number of servicewomen buried here as well as a few distinguished public servants who did not serve in the military. There is a long list of war heroes who rest in Arlington.

 

Among the famous are former President John Kennedy (whose grave and eternal flame draw multitudes of people paying their respect); World War I General of the Armies John Pershing (buried beneath a simple, standard issue marker like that of the troops who served under his command); Medal of Honor recipient Audie Murphy (the most decorated American of World War II); General George C. Marshall (the brilliant strategist and chief of staff during World War II and architect of the plan that rebuilt Europe); Pierre L’Enfant (George Washington’s aide during the American Revolution); General of the Armies Omar Bradley (who led American troops in Europe during World War II); and General Maxwell Taylor (chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Vietnam War). 

 

The cemetery is on land once owned by the great Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his family. It was confiscated by the government during the War Between the States and put to use as a cemetery to bury the Union dead. In an act of spite, the Union general in charge of the command had his war-slain son buried in Mrs. Lee’s rose garden.

 

The Supreme Court later ruled that the government had to pay General Lee’s heir and eldest son the market value of the unlawfully seized property. Today, the former Custis-Lee mansion is an official memorial to the great commander. (Lee is entombed under the altar of the chapel at Washington and Lee University. The school - which he served as president after the Civil War - is more than 100 miles to the south at Lexington, Va. It was named in his honor.)

 

Today, there are an average of 27 burials conducted at Arlington National Cemetery every day during the week. The year’s total
Betty Nolan by FDR Memorial waterfall
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funerals (including inurnment of ashes in a columbarium or in-ground burial of cremated remains in a designated but unmarked area) number about 6,000.

 

As an Arlington brochure describes it, an in-ground burial with full military honors is a dignified and moving occasion. An honor guard accompanies the American flag-draped coffin drawn by matched horses. A band plays solemn marches while muffled drums beat the slow cadence for the procession. Before the remains are lowered, a squad fires three rifle volleys and a bugler blows the long notes of “Taps.” Finally, the guard folds the flag and presents it to the next of kin.”

 

It was jarring to me when I learned that military rank has its privileges even after death. An enlisted serviceman customarily rates a “standard burial,” which omits the band, caisson and escort troops that are often provided for officer burials. Colonels, Generals and Admirals can also be honored with a riderless horse and special gun salutes.   

 

Arlington is 1 of more than 130 national cemeteries throughout the country. There are two in Memphis alone. Over the years, policies governing eligibility for in-ground burial at Arlington have grown ever more restrictive since there is a limited amount of space and huge numbers of veterans from World War II must be accommodated. According to “A Guide to Burial at Arlington National Cemetery,” the purpose of the regulations is to keep Arlington as an active cemetery for as long as possible. Current projections are that the cemetery has enough space to accommodate ground burials until 2060.

 

The following categories are eligible for in-ground burial of either casketed or cremated remains:

 

 

There are less restrictive requirements governing eligibility for placement of ashes in the Arlington Columbarium or in a common area devoid of markers.

 

As a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve with nearly two years of active, stateside duty during the Vietnam War, I am eligible for burial in more than 100 National Cemeteries. But my limited amount of service does not rate Arlington. Had I died before my father while still a dependent, I would have been eligible.

 

It was a somewhat grisly and gruesome thought, but I found it amusing to consider the mass burial that would have been required if my father had outlived all his five wives (albeit with no divorces) and dozen children before they reached adulthood.

 

Actually, a cemetery employee told me, current policy is that up to two family members can be buried in the same grave (dug deep) as the veteran. Some years ago, adjacent gravesites were allowed for former wives who predeceased their veteran husbands. But now for space reasons, the remains of any family members beyond two must be cremated so the ashes can be buried in the veteran’s grave.

 

It was the wish of my father that he be buried in Arlington. He was eligible for this honor because of his active duty service in the Army
Tombstone of Lewis E. Nolan, M.D.
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Air Corps during World War II and as a retired bird Colonel in the Air Force Reserve Officer Corps with more than 30 years of military service. Col. Lewis E. Nolan’s grave is marked by the standard stone provided free of charge. The grave is located on a sunny hillside not far from The Netherlands Carillon. It is in Section 42, Number 649.

 

I’ve visited the grave a half-dozen times over the last 35 years. Each time, I’ve had a private, one-way conversation with my long departed father about the progress of my life and that of my son and our namesake, Casey Lewis Earle Nolan. I was extraordinarily proud when I learned that Casey had visited the grave unprompted when he was working in nearby Bethesda, Md., several years ago. This was Casey’s second visit and Betty’s first visit to the grave.

 

We also visited a recent addition to Arlington National Cemetery, a new Memorial for Women in Military Service for America. It is a short walk from the Visitor Center and adjacent to the main, wrought iron gate to the interior cemetery. The half-crescent, stone structure has a series of exhibits that focus on the activities of more than 400,000 American women who wore the uniform in World War II alone. Other exhibits point to the role of women in the Revolutionary War, Civil War, World War I, Civil War, Korean, Viet Nam and other conflicts.

 

The memorial is a long overdue tribute. I’m sure the quality of the exhibits will improve in time as more artifacts and material becomes available. Visitors with stories to tell are asked to share them with volunteers on duty.

 

A temporary exhibit, “Faces of the Fallen,” hit home like a sledgehammer.  It is a project of more than 100 artists across America to represent by painting, sculpture or other media the faces of more than 1,300 members of the Armed Forces who were killed in Iraq during a two-year period ending in 2004. (The death toll is now nearing 2,000.)

 

Each face is presented in the same dimensions, roughly the size of a book. The artists were free to use their own artistic styles to represent the faces from actual photos. Some of the artistic portrayals are modernist, some are classic and some are avant-garde. All the fallen are identified by name, rank and hometown.

 

The very great majority of the faces were those of young men, primarily serving in the U.S. Army infantry or in the Marines. Placed under some of the portraits were small bouquets of flowers, tiny American flags, notes and other material that must have been left by family and friends.

 

I tried to avert my eyes when I noticed one woman, age about 40, sobbing uncontrollably as she walked away from the long rows of portraits
Casey Nolan by Potomac across from Jefferson Memorial
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of the fallen. She must have been a mother, or perhaps a widow or sister of a career soldier. I teared up in sympathy.

 

I just wish – as does Betty – that the exhibit would rotate between the White House and the Capitol’s Rotunda so that the President and Members of Congress would have to look at it every day.

 

July 10, 2005, Sunday – In Arlington, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

 

Sore and somewhat tired from all the walking around the Mall and Arlington National Cemetery yesterday, we lazed around Casey’s apartment for most of the morning. The television news broadcasts were hyperventilating about the wallop Hurricane Dennis was about to inflict on the Gulf Coast.

 

Breathless newsies with wet and grim faces broadcast from Pensacola, Gulf Breeze, Mobile and other locations on the Gulf of Mexico. They repeatedly warned that winds of 140 mph are headed that way in a few hours. Right in the target is Gulf Shores, which is only 65 percent recovered from Hurricane Ivan 10 months ago. We fear the worst.

 

However, later in the day we learned that Dennis had softened and veered a little to the east. The beach town of Santa Rosa, Fla., just east of Pensacola, was slammed but not destroyed. Gulf Shores only got a glancing blow, with winds of 75 mph. Several days later, we learned that some of the reconstruction work on the beachfront pool at our development had been nullified by a small storm surge of ocean waves. An elevator well in one of the buildings had been flooded, putting that repair further behind schedule. But overall, we got off lightly. There was no damage to our condo.

 

We learned to our dismay that yet another tropical storm is boiling up in the Caribbean as this year is shaping up to be one of the worst on record for hurricane formations.

 

After lunch, Casey drove us into D.C. for some more sightseeing. We decided not to wait in a line of indeterminate length to tour
Casey clowns around by Corcoran's "Niagara" by Frederic Church
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the Spy Museum and instead opted for a visit to the Corcoran Gallery of Art. It is the home of one of my favorite paintings, Frederic Church’s “Niagara.”

Standing in front of the huge painting’s depiction of water rushing over the famous falls makes me dizzy.

 

Betty and I visited the Corcoran several times when we spent so many Saturdays in Washington while I was stationed at Quantico Marine Corps Base in late 1969-early 1970. It is almost across the street from the White House. The Corcoran’s collection of 19th and early 20th Century American art is judged to be among the finest in the world. The total collection numbers more than 16,000 works, many of them historic and modern photographs.

 

We were disappointed on this visit. Nearly the entire second floor had been emptied to accommodate two temporary exhibitions. A large gallery displayed the winning works of a national scholastic art contest. Some were quite good. Several other good-sized galleries displayed the career photography of a celebrated Japanese. Much of his work dealt with Hiroshima just after the Atomic Bomb of 1945. We thought the exhibition, while probably important to serious students of the genre, was decidedly dull.

 

Of more interest to us was the Corcoran’s restored Salon Doré, the superb example of 18th Century opulence in interior design and artistry. Big enough to serve as a ballroom, the neoclassical room’s gilded wall paneling and ceiling mural was transplanted to the Corcoran by way of New York from Paris in the early 20th Century.

 

It had been part of a private mansion owned by a French aristocrat in the 18th Century. The room was purchased by William A. Clark (1839-1925), a wealthy industrialist and U.S. Senator from Montana. He had it installed in his mansion on 5th Avenue in New York. Following his death, the Salon Doré was moved to the Corcoran, which was also given Clark’s collection of European paintings, sculpture and decorative arts now housed in a wing of the museum that carries his name.

 

We left the Corcoran after an hour, a remarkably short visit given the depth and scope of the permanent collection that unfortunately seems to be mostly hidden or on loan elsewhere.

 

We walked a short distance to take pictures of the Old Executive Office Building, where I once met with former Vice President Al Gore in his ceremonial office at the building that suggests a wedding cake. This was
Lewis and Betty by White House fence
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about 1994, when I was frequently in Washington on behalf of my former employer, Schering-Plough. I had served Gore as volunteer captain of his Memphis in May barbeque team while he was in the U.S. Senate and had gotten to know him fairly well.

 

I was given a private tour of the Vice President’s office by one of Gore’s senior staffers. She showed me the working desk Gore used that still had the drilled holes where former President Nixon’s infamous tape recorder was secretly installed. The desk’s middle drawer has the hand-written signatures of several Presidents who have used the desk at one time or another, including Nixon.

 

We also took pictures of the White House, through the bars of the wrought iron fence. I was honored to be “inside the fence” in 1997 when I was part of a Chamber of Commerce group that met with Vice President Gore in the Indian Treaty Room of the White House.

 

While taking photos, we saw a low flying helicopter decked out in presidential colors pass overhead. It might have carried the current occupant of the White House. It reminded me of a couple of pleasant dinners we enjoyed in London two years ago with a Marine Corps helicopter pilot who had flown Gore and former President Clinton around in Marine One. I remember him telling us that Al Gore was one of the hardest working office holders he had ever seen.

 

That evening, Caroline joined us for an excellent dinner of sautéed Filet of Sole a la Emeril that Betty and I cooked in Casey’s apartment. 

 

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