The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Arlington National Cemetery’s gaudy, intrusive tour bus

An American flag adorns a headstone in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
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Gabriel Cronin-Golomb’s grandparents, the late Agnes and Charles Cronin, served in the U.S. Navy.

Those who visit the Arlington National Cemetery — described on its website as “both the most hallowed burial ground of our Nation’s fallen and one of the most visited tourist sites in the Washington, DC, area” — are expected to follow certain standards of conduct. They are expected to be quiet, courteous and, above all, respectful. It is understood that it is a hallowed ground where we lay our war heroes, our dedicated public servants and those who have given their lives for the country.

So why is it that immediately upon entering this sacred site, we are shown a stark image of disrespect, callousness and commercialism? I am, of course, referring to the for-profit tram rides that circle the park. They seek out tourists with star-spangled advertisements, with the sole objective of making a tidy sum off of those who hope to have “a fun day out” on this hallowed ground. Indeed, the contrast between those who are grieving and those who are seeking an entertaining tourist attraction is as stark as it is appalling.

For those who have not experienced this firsthand, let me lay it out for you. You enter the cemetery, greeted by a gaudy tram under a small pavilion. A line has formed, and, provided you pay the price, you are allowed to join in the tour. The tram starts off, and you are given canned facts from a loudspeaker embedded in the tram. You pass directly next to graves of war heroes and America’s fallen, where you snap smiling pictures with your friends and family. Then, when all is said and done, and you’ve seen all that the guides deem important, you are brought back to the park and shoved off on your merry way, with a wallet that’s almost $20 lighter.

Is this really how we want to treat our veterans? Our war heroes and public servants? With the same treatment one gets at a cheap amusement park? More than 100 burials occur each week. I cannot begin to imagine the pain some must endure when they’ve traversed the country to pay respects to a fallen family member or to lay a loved one to rest, only to see a tram full of tourists chug past, with a microphone blaring fun facts and trivia. Compassion and respect for those who have fallen have unfortunately gone out of style in favor of making a quick buck.

Arlington National Ceremony does great work, and I don’t seek to disparage that. The cemetery staff does remarkable work with the upkeep of the grounds and the tombs of those who have given their lives for this country. There are enough Disneylands and Universal Studios in this world; we do not need another.

Is it too much to ask that the history and sacrifice of our most revered citizens should be treated with the dignity that they deserve? I implore the Office of Army Cemeteries in the Department of the Army to either restrict the tram program to only those who need it (those with disabilities) or make it free and quiet.