Stark, white marble headstones dot the lush, green grass, forming uniform rows as far as the eye can see in nearly every direction.
Names of servicemembers are carefully carved into each piece of stone.
This is a place of honor, prestige and remembrance – a resting place for those who served their country.
For more than 150 years, servicemembers from every military branch have been laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, located on 200 acres of land in Arlington, Virginia, across from the Potomac River.
Among those servicemembers are Coast Guardsmen Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Bruckenthal, the Coast Guard’s most recent combat casualty, Commodore Ellsworth Bertholf, the Coast Guard’s first commandant, and Cmdr. Elmer Stone, the Coast Guard’s first helicopter pilot who went on to fly the first trans-Atlantic flight.
In addition to the more than 400,000 servicemembers buried there, the site is also home to numerous monuments, one of which is the Coast Guard Memorial.
The memorial, located on Coast Guard Hill in the cemetery, commemorates two tragic events in Coast Guard history during World War I. The first occurred Sept. 17, 1918, when 11 shipmates from Coast Guard Cutter Seneca perished when the torpedoed British steamer they were assisting sank in the Bay of Biscay. Just nine days later, Cutter Tampa was sunk by enemy submarine UB-91 in the British Channel, and all aboard Tampa were lost.
Another memorial on Coast Guard Hill is the final resting place of Lt. Jack Ritticher, a Coast Guard aviator who volunteered to deploy as part of the Rescue and Recovery Squadron operating out of Da Nang during the Vietnam War. Within a month of arriving he earned three Distinguished Flying Crosses for his rescues of downed aviators – all in combat conditions under fire. Sadly, after only two months in theater, his helicopter was hit by enemy fire while trying to rescue a downed U.S. Marine Corps pilot. Before he deployed to Vietnam, Ritticher’s brother asked him why he had volunteered for service. Ritticher told him, “This is what I am. I’m an air rescue pilot and I’ve got an obligation.”
With so much to see at Arlington, it could be overwhelming. To assist visitors, there is a free Arlington National Cemetery app available on the cemetery’s website, on-site kiosks and for download through app stores.
The ANC Explorer app allows visitors to locate gravesites and places of interest, obtain walking directions and photos, as well as find events and other points of interest.
The latest version also includes self-guided tours, easy access to general information, and provides the ability to save searched burial records to a mobile device.
One of the self-guided tours available is a U.S. Coast Guard tour. The tour focuses on points of interest relating to the Coast Guard, Coast Guard aviation and other notable pioneers of naval aviation. Points of interest include the Tampa and Seneca Monument, the USS Serpens Monument and the graves of several past Coast Guard commandants, aviation pioneers and Coast Guard heroes.
The tour has 20 different stops and is an estimated 3 1/2 miles. Each stop has a brief history or biography attached to it. You can also use the app to select certain persons of interest and it will provide directions to the site.
“For those who live in the Washington, D.C. area or those visiting the nation’s capital, I would encourage you to visit Arlington National Cemetery and pay respect to those who came before us,” said Master Chief Petty Officer Liam Williams, the aircrew programs manager at Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C. “The history and stories are both moving and awe inspiring.”
PA2 Connie Terrell