Around the end of March each year, a group of about 30 people dressed in work boots and work clothes converge on Arlington National Cemetery.
Along with these folks come some heavy machinery, work trucks, materials, a mobile home and a ton of passion for the work.
The group in question are all volunteers who belong to the North American Fence Contractors Association or NAFCA. I was proud to have been a part of the event.
Their mission is to tear down and replace the fencing around the cemetery with new fence to help with the up-keep of the grounds. I believe this is the 6th year for the event and I have been fortunate enough to have attended four of them.
Once everything is set up and everyone has been briefed on their activities for the day, the work to install 300 feet of aluminum and iron fence between two teams begins.
The fun and fellowship is wonderful, but all the time we are working there are solemn reminders of where we are. The Cemetery conducts between 27 and 30 services each weekday and between six and eight each Saturday.
As we work, we often hear the bugler playing Taps as the wind drifts his notes towards us. The 21 gun salute sounded several times while we were there, and of course the headstones run in straight uniform lines in every direction.
Dennis and Angela start the clean up!
When the work is finished and we clean up a little, it’s time for a tour of the Cemetery.
A little bit of Arlington National Cemetery history:
The land once belonged to George Washington Parke Curtis, grandson of Martha Washington and step-grandson of George Washington. In 1857, Curtis willed the 1,100 acre property to his daughter Mary Anna Randolph Curtis, who was married to Robert E. Lee.
After the Lee family vacated the estate in 1861 at the onset of the Civil War, federal troops occupied the property as a camp and headquarters.
In 1863, the government established Freedman’s Village on a portion of the estate as a way to assist slaves transitioning to freedom. The Village provided housing, education, training, and medical care.
As the number of Civil War casualties was outpacing other local Washington D.C.-based cemeteries , the property became a burial location,
The first military burial took place on May 13th, 1864 for Private William Christian.
On June 15th, 1864 the War Department officially set aside approximately 200 acres of the property to use as a cemetery.
It was a perfect day of fellowship and working to give something back to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
Arlington National Cemetery is steeped in history and well worth a visit. For more information on NAFCA, visit their website and become a part of this proud group.