Today I had a full day of fieldwork at Arlington National Cemetery. It’s the time in the Field School where students are starting to pull things together. They’ve all started their oral history interviews, in most cases they’ve identified more people to interview than they can each interview. That’s where I come in: interviewing the overflow so that fields school is not only a successful class, but also a successful documentation project.
After the interview, I took advantage of a rare priviledge: the ability to drive to the cemetery. I’m not from a military family, but my grandmother’s first cousins all served. Two men are buried at the Old Soldiers Home in NW Washington, and their sister, Pearl Watson, is buried in Section 21 (dedicated to nurses) in Arlington.
I drove up to Section 21, just around the corner from the Tomb of the Unknowns and the Memorial Amphitheater. I started at the upper end of the section (pictured above) and worked my way down. As fate would have it, my cousin Pearl was buried in the front row (the last place I looked).
On my way home, I called my mother to let her know I had found Pearl. The conversation the followed was amazing–she told me stories about Pearl and her brothers and sisters. The only one I met was he youngest, Gail, lived to be 102 and was an avid storyteller, recalling vividly how her father had lost his arm fighting for the Union.
While I was there, I heard singing from a nearby funeral, then two distinct 21-gun salutes. The cemetery is an active, yet contemplative space. I was happy for the opportunity to find Pearl and to once again hear my mother’s memories of her.