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The 21 Gun Salute

My mother came to live with me in 2015.  While in reasonably good health for her advanced years, mom has declined over time and become less and less able to do things for herself.  Her mind is still sharp, however.

My mother utilizes a walker to give her stability as she walks.  She can walk without it but tends to be unsteady.  One evening after rising from a chair in the living room, she announced that she was ready to go to bed.  She proceeded to walk into the kitchen where she then put the breaks on her walker and sat down.

Out of the blue, she began to speak about her deceased husband (my stepfather).  “Wally always wanted to be buried at Arlington,” she said very matter-of-factly. 

To provide some background here:  Wally was a disabled Veteran.  He and my mother met when she volunteered at the Veterans hospital close to our apartment in the Bronx.  He was a quadriplegic; had the use of his arms but he could not open his hands.  Wally was injured in Korea in uniform in a skiing accident.  If my account is correct, he was skiing down a hill on patrol and lost control resulting in his smashing into a tree breaking his back and his neck.  Wally and my mother married when I was a sophomore in High School.  To be perfectly frank, I was a rebellious teen and in no mood to have my mother and her new husband taking up space in an apartment I previously had all to myself after school.  But – back to the story…

So-on a Tuesday night in the July 14, 2020, for no apparent reason, my mother is now recounting to me that Wally wanted to be buried in Arlington.  My first thought was, “He wasn’t eligible?”  “Odd that a man who enlisted in the service and wound up paralyzed was not eligible,” I thought.  Her response was, “I don’t know – I suppose he was.  I never looked into it.”

ARE YOU KIDDING ME???

To me: this was the total disregard of a dying declaration of a paralyzed veteran.  When I said as much, mom became very defensive and tried to change the subject.  Wally and I rarely saw eye-to-eye on anything.  Suffice to say, we resented each other’s presence.  However, this was somehow way beyond anything I could overlook.

The next morning, I got on the internet and looked up Arlington National Cemetery.  I found a phone number and called briefly stating my name, Wally’s information and situation.  That phone call began the 17-month journey of phone calls, emails, documentation, and logistics that led to this day.  I am proud to announce that this afternoon at 2:00 pm, my stepfather, Walter Wray, was laid to rest where he wanted to be – in Arlington National Cemetery.  Perhaps this makes up in some small way for all the headaches I provided as a teen.  Maybe not. Either way – he earned it!

For anyone curious – I have attached information regarding the history of Arlington (information I had never taken the time to learn about until today).  You may find that interesting. 

History

Arlington National Cemetery is a United States military cemetery in Arlington County, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., in whose 639 acres (259 ha) the dead of the nation’s conflicts have been buried, beginning with the Civil War, as well as reinterred dead from earlier wars.  The national cemetery was established during the Civil War on the grounds of Arlington House, previously the estate of Mary Anna Custis Lee, a great-granddaughter of Martha Washington and wife of Robert E. Lee

At the outbreak of the Civil War, most military personnel who died in battle near Washington, D.C., were buried at the United States Soldiers’ Cemetery in Washington, D.C., or Alexandria Cemetery in Alexandria, Virginia, but by late 1863 both were nearly full.[13] On July 16, 1862, Congress passed legislation authorizing the U.S. federal government to purchase land for national cemeteries for military dead, and put the U.S. Army Quartermaster General in charge of this program.[13] In May 1864, Union forces suffered large numbers of dead in the Battle of the WildernessQuartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs ordered that an examination of eligible sites be made for the establishment for a large new national military cemetery. Within weeks, his staff reported that Arlington Estate was the most suitable property in the area.[13] The property was high and free from floods (which might unearth graves), it had a view of the District of Columbia, and it was aesthetically pleasing. It was also the home of the leader of the armed forces of the Confederate States of America, and denying Robert E. Lee use of his home after the war was a valuable political consideration.[14] 

The first military burial at Arlington, for William Henry Christman, was made on May 13, 1864,[15] close to what is now the northeast gate in Section 27.[16] However, Meigs did not formally authorize establishment of burials until June 15, 1864.[17] Arlington did not desegregate its burial practices until President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 9981 on July 26, 1948.

The government acquired Arlington at a tax sale in 1864 for $26,800, equal to $443,454 today.[19] Mrs. Lee had not appeared in person but rather had sent an agent, attempting to pay the $92.07 in property taxes (equal to $1,523 today) assessed on the estate in a timely manner.[20] The government turned away her agent, refusing to accept the tendered payment. In 1874, Custis Lee, heir under his grandfather’s will passing the estate in trust to his mother, sued the United States, claiming ownership of Arlington. On December 9, 1882, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5–4 in Lee’s favor in United States v. Lee, deciding that Arlington had been confiscated without due process.[20][21] After that decision, Congress returned the estate to him, and on March 3, 1883, Custis Lee sold it back to the government for $150,000 (equal to $3,535,000 in 2022) at a signing ceremony with Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln.[19][22] The land then became a military reservation.[23]

President Herbert Hoover conducted the first national Memorial Day ceremony in Arlington National Cemetery, on May 30, 1929. (Arlington National Cemetery, 2022)

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3 Comments

  1. Colleen Lochner on January 16, 2022 at 11:22 am

    This is wonderful and deserving for your Stepfather. Arlington’s Cemetery’s history is amazing and a place which never ceases to touch my heart. Over the years, we’ve had a few opportunities to attend Funerals there and always gave me chills from the pageantry of it all. Thanks for this write up as well as the attachment of the history. Have a great day my friend.



  2. Steve Gregory on January 16, 2022 at 12:18 pm

    Beautiful story Ellen 🐴🐴



  3. Howard Wray on January 29, 2022 at 9:36 pm

    Beautiful Ellen this is very nice and thoughtful…….thank you……….It was my understanding that he went off a ski jump…..and landed wrong….but I not completely sure either…….just what he had told me……..I also knew that he had wanted to be buried in Arlington……….but that was prior to getting married……he always said when I die…..I will be buried in Arlington….when he was buried in Bushnell,, I figured they had discussed it…….again thank you……