Thousands of tourists, drawn to Arlington Cemetery by the grave of John F. Kennedy and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, are awed by the rows of wind-bleached headstones that line the hills like a regiment attention.
Of the 170,000 graves that covers 570 acres, barely a score are noted on the visitor's map.
There are other stories worthy of note. The grave of a man would have been president but for an undelivered telegram. A president-in-exile who has no final resting place even in death. A general who chose to rest in peace beneath a cannon.
Take the story of Lt. Thomas E. Selfridge, who was the nation's first military air casualty.
Selfridge, 26 years old, volunteered to be a military observer on board a fragile gas-powered plane that took off from Ft. Myer, on Sept. 17, 1908. The plane had been transported to the field on the back of a wagon and had skids instead of wheels.
In the 1908 experimental flight, staged before an audience of high-ranking military, the plane reached an altitude of 150 feet when the propeller struck a brace wire and tumbled into what now is part of Arlington Cemetery. Selfridge was killed.
The pilot-designer of the craft suffered a broken pelvis. His name Orville Wright.
The crash temporarily dampened military interest in flight but one year later, the Army purchased an improved model from Wright for $25,000,inaugurating the history of military aviation.
Sixty yards from the obelisk that marks Selfridge grave are two modest government markers where the bodies of Virgil I. Grisson and Roger Bruce Chafee are buried.
Grissom and Chaffee died in an Apollo 1 spacecraft on Jan. 27, 1967, during a simulated launching of the spacecraft that was designated to take them to the moon.
For some, the patterns of their lives are reflected in the manner of their death and interment.
Polish pianist and presidnt--exile Ingnace Jan Paderewksi died in New York City on June 29, 1941, and still is awaiting a permanent grave. At the request of President Franklin. D Roosevelt. Paderewski's body was given a temporary resting place in the vault of the Battleship Maine Monument at Arlington National Cemetery.
He may lie there until Poland is free," Roosevelt instructed the State Department. Paderewski could not be permanently buried in Arlington because he had not served in the U.S. armed forces or any army allied with the U. S.
The resting place went unmarked until May 9, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy dedicated a plaque that reads, "Ignace Jan Paderewski, Polish Statesman and Musician. His Remains Rest Temporarily within the USS Maine Memorial.
For 36 years the coffin, enclosed in a wooden box, has rested on a dolly inside the monument, waiting to be moved and returned to Poland.
At the pianist's request, his heart was removed before interment, and given to a group of Polish American patriots who buried it in Brooklyn, N. Y.
Abner Doubleday, whom many credit with the invention of baseball, also is buried in Arlington.
Doubleday, was a captain at Fort Sumter, S. C., when it was under attack in April, 1861. As much in dispute as his fathering of baseball is the legend that it was Doubleday who fired the return shot from the beseiged fort, in the initial battle of the Civil Wars.
Perhaps the most unusual of the 170,000 grave markers at Arlington National Cemetery belongs to Maj. Gen. Wallace Fitz Randolph, the father of modern field artillery warfare.
He lies beneath a mammoth Civil War cannon with the date of his birth, June 14, 1841, and his death, Dec. 9, 1910, inscribed on a broze plaque on the cannon's trailer. The wheels are rusting and the muzzle, with the date 1862 on it, has turned a coral green.
"He wanted to be buried under a cannon because he slept under one most of his life," according to cemetery historian Ben Davis.
Also in the cemetery is a drummer boy elevated to fame during the Union defeat at Chickamauga.
Maj. Gen. John Lincoln Clem, known as "Little Johnny Clem, the drummer boy of Chickamauga," entered the Army as a 10-year-old orphan. Thought too young for combat, he was made a drummer.
Legend has it that at the battle of Chickamauga he became separated from his troops. Three bullets tore through his cap as he retreated beating his drum.
A confederate colonel rode up to take the boy prisoner and laughed to see the lad left behind by his own troops. Clem levelled his sawed-off musket and killed the officer.
When word of his deed reached Gen. William Starke Rosecrans and Gen. George Henry Thomas. Clem was promoted to sergeant and became the youngest ever to wear the chevrons of a noncommissioned officer in the U. S. Army.
In 1915 he was made a brigadier General and a year after 43 years of military service, he retired as a major general. He died in 1937.
His simple grave declares "John Lincoln Clem, the Drummer Boy of Chickamauga, Major General U.S. Army, 1851-1937."
The defeat at Chickamauga, which made a hero of Clem, led to General William Starke Rosecrans' being stripped of his command. Rosecrans, too, is buried at Arlington Arlingtn.
But for a twist fate, Rosecrans, not AndrewJohnson, would have been president after Abraham Lincoln's assassination.
William H. Lamers, hs definitive biography on the general, describes the episode:
It was at the June 7, 1864. National Union Convention in Baltimore where James Garfield, who had a strong voice in the Republican party, controlled enough votes name the vice-presidential candidate to run with Lincoln.
Garfield wired Rosecrans from the floor of the convention offering him the vice-presidential slot on the ticket with Lincoln.
Rosecrans received the telegram and responded that he would accept, but Garfield never got the the reply. "It was pretty well established" that the message had been intercepted by the Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, a long-time foe of Rosecrans.
Hearing nothing from Rosecrans, Garfield tapped Andrew Johnson and the rest is history