Saturday, January 8, 2011

Book Review--On Hallowed Ground

Poole, Robert M. On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National Cemetery. Walker Publishing Co., New York, NY. 352 pages, 274 pages text, index, notes, b/w photos, map. ISBN 9780802715487 or 9780802715494, $28.00 or $17.00.

On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National CemeteryThe story of Arlington National Cemetery is one that can be told from many vantage points. Everybody would have their own favorite monument or story or agenda. Robert Poole has done an excellent job of covering this monumental task. The cemetery story is monumental both in size and scope and also in it's symbolic nature and importance to the United States.

No history of Arlington can be told without the story of the Lee family. Poole spends a large amount of time covering the Lee (or Custis family if you prefer) history in regards to the land. Robert E. Lee's fateful decision to join the Confederacy and the repercussions carried out by a vengeful Montgomery Meigs are thoroughly covered as is the attempt of Custis Lee to regain title to the property. After the government gains clear title through a $150,000 payment to Custis Lee ownership was never again in doubt. With this, efforts began to remove the freedmen who had taken up residence on the property during and after the Civil War. What was at the time a small cemetery would grow to take on a much larger place in history.

As further wars such as the Spanish-American War and World War I took place the importance of finding, identifying, and burying the dead continued to be a prime goal. Through time better science, more research, and the simple use of dog tags helped in identifying American dead even long after the death took place. Despite advances though some wars produced remains that could never be identified. On February 24, 1921 burial of a World War I Unknown Soldier was authorized at Arlington National Cemetery. Further burials from Korea and World War II were enshrined at later dates.  Unfortunately political ambition has crept into the history of the Unknown Soldier and the Reagan administration made a critical error in hurriedly burying remains from a Vietnam soldier. The remains were later removed and proven to belong to Lt. Michael Blassie. Poole puts forth that with the advances made in science it is possible that no further burials will take place at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

While the famous are what many people go to Arlington for, Poole credits the burial of President John F. Kennedy with causing both an increase in visitors and burials, the common soldier makes up Arlington National Cemetery. From Richard McKinley, a casualty of the nations first nuclear accident, to cemetery foreman Darrell Stafford, to PFC Alton W. "Knappie" Knappenberger, who singlehandedly slowed a German attack during World War II thus earning the Medal of Honor, to dozens of dead from the Pentagon attack on 9/11 Poole adeptly tells their stories. These stories are moving and heartfelt.

My only real issue with the book is I would have liked a better map. There is a two page map of the cemetery located at the front of the book however I found it woefully inadequate to refer to. It is broken up over the pages and also is generally hard to read. A nice foldout map would be a great addition to this book. Publishing costs however have to be taken into account and this might just not have been in the budget. For those looking for a photo history of Arlington you should look elsewhere. This is not that kind of book If however, you are interested in a good read about one of our nation's most famous locations this is your book!

Is this book the definitive word on Arlington? No. Was it written to be that? No. It is however an excellent work. Whether you are taking a trip to the Washington D.C. area and would like some knowledge about Arlington before visiting or if you are already a student of this remarkable monument Poole has written a book you should have on your shelves.

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