10 Famous Americans Buried at Arlington National Cemetery

10 Famous Americans Buried at Arlington National Cemetery

Khalid Elhassan - August 2, 2017

Situated on rolling hills overlooking Washington, DC, Arlington National Cemetery is America’s most prestigious burial ground. It was established during the Civil War on an estate confiscated from the family of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. To ensure that Lee could never return to his house, Union soldiers were buried in his wife’s rose garden, and the estate was designated a military cemetery.

Since then, Arlington National Cemetery has become the nation’s premier military burial ground, and the final resting of over 300,000 American veterans, from the Revolutionary War to Afghanistan and Iraq, their family members, as well as civilians whose service to the country in non-military fields rendered them eligible for burial in its hallowed grounds.

Following are ten people who found their final resting place in Arlington National Cemetery.

Pierre Charles L’Enfant

In 1790, Congress authorized a federal district on the Potomac River to house the national government. Charles Pierre L’Enfant, a Frenchman who had sailed to the New World to fight for the rebels during the American Revolution, and who became an accomplished architect after the war, was entrusted by George Washington to plan the new nation’s capital.

L’Enfant created Washington, DC, from scratch, imposing his vision for a grand capital on unappealing tracts of land. Surveying a swath of swamps and forests and hills, L’Enfant envisioned inspiring buildings, grand avenues, and public squares. America’s capital, as it exists to this day, is based on L’Enfant’s design.

10 Famous Americans Buried at Arlington National Cemetery
Pierre Charles L’Enfant. Alchetron

Adapting European city models to American ideals, the design was based on concepts of equality of citizens, such as The Mall that was open to all – an idea unheard of in most of Europe – and wide avenues affording extended views, with a series of public parks and squares evenly dispersed at intersections.

L’Enfant’s plan also departed from the traditional idea that the grandest spot in a capital should be reserved for the ruler’s palace. Instead, the highest point in the city, with the most commanding view, was reserved for Congress, whose building would be the grandest and most imposing in the new capital, while the President would be housed in a relatively modest mansion shunted off to the side. Capitol Hill, and not the White House, is the center of the city from which broad diagonal avenues radiate, cutting a grid street system.

10 Famous Americans Buried at Arlington National Cemetery
L’Enfant’s Washington, DC, plan. Study Blue

L’Enfant’s vision came to be, but he himself did not get to see it or get the credit. While a gifted and visionary architect, he lacked political tact and skill, and so he frequently clashed with officials. His unwillingness to compromise with the city commissioners who would do the actual work of implementing his plans, or the legislators who would pay for it all, would cost him in the end.

Eventually, the exasperated officials got a surveyor who copied L’Enfant’s plan, with minor modifications to incorporate the changes sought by the politicians, without giving L’Enfant any credit. Furious, and egged on by Thomas Jefferson, he resigned.

Pierre Charles L’Enfant died penniless in 1825, never having been paid for his work in designing Washington, DC.

He was originally buried in Maryland, until 1909, when he finally got some posthumous recognition. His remains were exhumed, placed in a casket, and after lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda, L’Enfant was reinterred in Arlington National Cemetery, in a monument positioned on an elevated spot overlooking the capital city he had designed. His grave is located in Section 2, Lot S-3, Grid S-34.

10 Famous Americans Buried at Arlington National Cemetery
Abner Doubleday. New York Times

Abner Doubleday

Abner Doubleday was a career US Army officer, who fired the first shot in defense of Fort Sumter at the start of the American Civil War, rose to general rank in the Union’s army, and played a pivotal role during the Battle of Gettysburg. On the civilian side of the ledger, he secured a patent on the San Francisco cable car railway that runs to this day. He is best known, however for his links to baseball, and was credited for many years as having invented the game in the 1830s.

As it turned out, the baseball story was a myth. But even without inventing a national sport, Abner Doubleday still had a significant national impact. Doubleday was born in 1819 in New York, to a family of warriors, his father having fought in the War of 1812, his paternal grandfather in the Revolutionary War on the side of the Patriots, his maternal grandparent had been a messenger for George Washington, and at least one of his great grandparents had been a Minuteman.

He was accepted into West Point in 1838, graduated four years later, and was commissioned as an artillery officer. Prior to the Civil War, Doubleday fought in the Mexican War, 1846 to 1848, and in the Seminole Wars, 1856 to 1858. In 1861, he was second in command in the federal garrison at Fort Sumter when it was fired upon by Rebels to start off the Civil War. He personally aimed the first cannon that returned fire, and forever after credited himself with firing the war’s first shot in defense of the Union.

After the Sumter garrison capitulated and vacated the fort, Doubleday served in the artillery of the Army of the Potomac, and by the time of the Second Battle of Bull Run, had risen to command of a brigade. Following the Union defeat in that battle, he took charge his division after its commander was wounded, and led it as it covered the army’s retreat.

At the Battle of Antietam, the division commander was again wounded, and Doubleday again took charge and led his men in fierce fighting in which he was wounded.

By the time of the Battle of Gettysburg, Doubleday had been appointed to permanent command of his own division in the Army of the Potomac’s I Corps. That corps was the first to arrive at the field of battle and reinforced a cavalry commander who had been fighting a delaying action west of Gettysburg, in order to buy Union forces enough time to reach and occupy strong defensive position south of the town.

On that first day of fighting, I Corps’ commander, General John F. Reynolds, was killed, and Doubleday took charge. Leading 9000 men, he fought off nearly twice as many Confederates for five hours, sustaining horrific casualties, before being forced to retreat to the defensive positions on the high ground south of Gettysburg.

10 Famous Americans Buried at Arlington National Cemetery
Doubleday’s position on first day of Battle of Gettysburg. Wikimedia

I Corps was effectively destroyed in that first day’s fighting and shattered so badly that it would be decommissioned the following year, with its components sent off to reinforce other corps. However, Doubleday had bought the rest of the Union army enough time to reach the field of battle, and secure the high ground for whose possession Doubleday had sacrificed his corps.

The remainder of the Battle of Gettysburg over the following days boiled down to the Confederates vainly attacking the Union forces in an attempt to knock them off those heights, and getting beaten back each time, culminating in Picket’s Charge on the last day’s fighting, before admitting defeat and retreating to Virginia.

Without Doubleday’s ferocious stubbornness on that first day’s fighting, things could have gone differently in the war’s greatest battle. The story could well have been one in which the Confederates were the ones to first secure and occupy the heights south of Gettysburg. The Army of the Potomac, whose morale was none too high after humiliating defeats in the preceding months in the Battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, and under a newly appointed commander whom most did not know, would have been forced to do the attacking against strong defensive positions situated on high ground, that was manned by an enemy brimming with confidence after a string of recent successes.

Because sometimes no good deed goes unpunished, Doubleday was penalized rather than applauded. General George Meade, the Army of the Potomac’s new commander, did not like Doubleday, and so was inclined to believe false reports that I Corps under Doubleday, rather than saving the day, had broken and fled, causing the entire Union line to unravel. So Meade took I Corps from Doubleday and sent him back to command his division.

Doubleday fought well in charge of his division during the remainder of the battle and was wounded in the process. But for the rest of his life, he never forgot or forgave Meade. After the Civil War, Doubleday was stationed in San Francisco, where he secured a patent for the cable car railway that still runs there to this day.

Retiring from the US Army in 1873, he became a New York lawyer, and took to writing memoirs and histories of the Civil War. He died in 1893, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Section 1, Site 61.

10 Famous Americans Buried at Arlington National Cemetery
Anita Newcomb McGee. Daughters of the American Revolution

Anita Newcomb McGee

Dr. Anita Newcomb McGee is considered the founder of the Army Nurse Corps. Born in 1864, Dr. McGee got her medical degree in 1892, and became one of the few female practicing doctors in Washington, DC. When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, Dr. McGee trained and organized volunteer nurses, and her organizing abilities led to her appointment as acting Assistant Surgeon General of the US Army, in charge of nurses, for the duration of the war. That made her the first woman authorized to wear an Army officer’s uniform.

During the conflict, she wrote a manual on nursing that was adopted by the American military and formed the basis for nursing practices for decades thereafter, with some parts surviving as standard procedures to this day. After the war, she lobbied for the establishment of a permanent nurse corps and wrote the section of the legislation that was subsequently enacted into law to establish the Army Nurse Corps in 1901.

In 1904, Dr. McGee led a contingent of volunteer nurses to serve in Japan during the Russo-Japanese War. She established a field hospital for the Imperial Japanese Army, and trained Japanese Red Cross nurses. Given an officer’s rank by the Japanese government, she conducted inspections of field hospitals and hospital ships, and served as medical military attache with the Japanese army in Manchuria.

Returning to America after the war, Dr. McGee resumed her medical practice, wrote about her war experiences, and lectured at the University of California. She died in 1940 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Section 1, Lot 526-B.

10 Famous Americans Buried at Arlington National Cemetery
John Foster Dulles (right) with President Eisenhower. Wikimedia

John Foster Dulles

For six years, during one of the coldest stretches of the Cold War, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, the strongest personality in President Eisenhower’s cabinet, dominated America’s foreign policy as few have before or since. He was the President’s chief advisor, chief negotiator, chief troubleshooter on Capitol Hill, and chief agent at home and abroad.

A hands-on Secretary of State who believed in the power of personal interactions and contacts with America’s interlocutors, Dulles logged nearly half a million miles in overseas travels as he sought to exercise American leadership by constant visits to all parts of the world. He negotiated numerous treaties and alliances that reflected his staunch and aggressive anti-communism.

The eldest son of a Presbyterian minister, John Foster Dulles was born in 1888, in Washington, DC. A studious young man, he graduated from Princeton in 1908, before attending law school and becoming an attorney, specializing in international law. When World War I broke out, he tried to join the Army but was rejected because of poor eyesight. He got his start in foreign affairs in 1915 when his uncle, Secretary of State Robert Lansing, sent him to Latin America to sound out the locals on lining up with the US against Germany.

His foreign affairs CV was further enhanced after the war when, during the Versailles Peace Conference, Dulles was appointed legal counsel to the US delegation. By the 1940s, he had become a prominent Republican. A Friend of Thomas E. Dewey, he became his foreign policy advisor during the failed 1944 and 1948 presidential bids.

When Eisenhower was elected in 1952, Dulles became his Secretary of State. A deeply religious man, he abhorred communism, which he viewed as “godless terrorism”, and began shifting US policy from a strategy of containment of communism to a more aggressive and proactive one of “liberation”, helped in no small part by the appointment of his brother, Allen Dulles, to head the Central Intelligence Agency.

With the Dulles brothers heading the State Department and the CIA, the 1950s saw aggressive American interference in the domestic affairs of foreign countries, including the overthrow of democratically elected governments in Iran and Guatemala when their leaders were suspected of communist sympathies. That aggressive policy is credited with setting the stage for America’s subsequent involvement in Vietnam.

In 1959, John Foster Dulles was diagnosed with cancer. He resigned from office and died a few weeks later. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Section 21, Lot 31.

10 Famous Americans Buried at Arlington National Cemetery
Lee Marvin. Arlington National Cemetery

Lee Marvin

Lee Marvin was a prolific actor who appeared in roughly 70 films between 1951 and 1986. He won an Oscar for Best Actor in 1965, for his role in the Western comedy Cat Ballou, but he is probably better known for his starring roles in The Dirty Dozen and Hell in the Pacific, as well as the NBC television series M Squad.

Born in New York City in 1924, Lee Marvin was a problem child and teenage delinquent, who liked hunting and drinking, sometimes both simultaneously, and was expelled from numerous schools for misconduct ranging from smoking cigarettes to throwing schoolmates out of second-story windows.

He eventually dropped out of high school to join the Marines during World War II and spent a few years storming beaches in the Pacific. He was promoted to corporal, before getting busted back down to private for misconduct. He was seriously injured in the Battle of Saipan, first getting hit by machine-gun fire, then by a sniper shooting his foot. It took Marvin a year to recover from his wounds, during which time he seems to have done some self-reflection. He came out of the war a calmer and less wild young man.

After he was discharged, Lee Marvin drifted, before getting a job as a plumber’s assistant. While repairing some pipes in a theater, an actor got sick, and Marvin was recruited to step into his role, which fit his personality – a big and boisterous drunk. He took to acting like a fish to water, and after a few years in off-Broadway productions, followed by a small role in a Broadway piece, he moved to Hollywood in 1950.

In Hollywood, Lee Marvin got started with bit parts in war movies, where his real-life combat experience lent authenticity to his acting, and made him a sought after consultant by directors and actors seeking to get a feel for authentic infantry behavior.

Throughout his career, Lee Marvin excelled most in roughneck roles, mainly because he actually was a roughneck in real life, with a violent streak that made his malevolent and tough-guy characters ring true. Lee Marvin died in 1987, aged 63. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Section 7A, Lot 176.

10 Famous Americans Buried at Arlington National Cemetery
Bill Mauldin Stamp. United States Postal Service

Bill Mauldin

William Henry “Bill” Mauldin won initial fame in the Second World War as a cartoonist for the military newspaper Stars and Stripes, with his sardonic Willie and Joe cartoons, depicting the travails of a pair of disheveled combat soldiers.

Born in 1921 in New Mexico, Bill Mauldin studied cartooning at the Chicago Academy of Fine arts, before enlisting in the US Army in 1940. He started drawing for the 45th Division’s newspaper. His work brought him to the attention of Stars and Stripes, which began publishing his cartoons in 1943, before formally adding him to its staff in 1944. Mauldin covered the fighting in Sicily and Italy, was wounded during the fighting around Salerno, and after D-Day, he was sent to France and accompanied the advancing GIs into Germany.

While working for Stars and Stripes, Mauldin created Willie and Joe, a pair of front-line GIs who frequently found themselves caught between the horrors of war and the oft-times ridiculous expectations and directives of the Army’s chain of command. The irrepressible duo thus struggled from one cartoon to the next in order to triumph over both the Wehrmacht and their own rear-echelon officers.

10 Famous Americans Buried at Arlington National Cemetery
Willie and Joe cartoon. Weekly Storybook

General George S. Paton did not like Mauldin or his cartoon creations. Willie and Joe’s slovenly appearance was the antithesis of the ramrod straight and soldierly spit and polish image fetishized by Paton. Between that, and the cartoons’ pointed jabs at the unrealistic fatuousness of the military hierarchy, such as a cartoon ridiculing a directive from Paton that troops be clean-shaven at all times, the general considered Willie and Joe detrimental to discipline and morale. Mauldin was ordered to report to Paton’s headquarters, where he was berated by the general, accused of trying to incite a mutiny, described as an “unpatriotic anarchist”, and threatened with jail.

The GIs however loved Willie and Joe. Paton’s boss, Dwight D. Eisenhower, correctly judging that the cartoons gave soldiers an outlet for frustrations that might otherwise bubble over and get expressed in more troublesome ways, ordered Paton to back off and leave Mauldin alone.

The War Office also supported the cartoons and helped Mauldin get them syndicated in the US, deeming them an asset to the war effort precisely because they depicted the dark side of war, and showed the civilians back home that victory would not come easy but would require considerable effort and sacrifice.

The cartoons became a wild success, not only with the military rank and file, but also with the civilians back home after they were syndicated, earning Mauldin a Pulitzer Prize in 1945. As Band of Brothers author Stephen Ambrose described Willie and Joe: “More than anyone else, save only Ernie Pyle, [Mauldin] caught the trials and travails of the GI. For anyone who wants to know what it was like to be an infantryman in World War II, this is the place to start – and finish.”

After the war, Mauldin returned to civilian life, published collections of his wartime cartoons, and freelanced, before joining the St. Louis Post Dispatch as an editorial cartoonist. In 1959, he won another Pulitzer Prize, this one for a cartoon depicting the lack of civil liberties in the Soviet Union. In 1962, by which point his cartoons were widely syndicated, he switched to the Chicago Sun-Times. His work also appeared in numerous magazines, such as Sports Illustrated and Life.

Bill Mauldin died in 2003, aged 81. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery’s Section 64, Lot 6874.

10 Famous Americans Buried at Arlington National Cemetery
Thurgood Marshall outside Supreme Court building in 1955. The Marshall Project

Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall, the country’s first African American appointed a Justice of the United States Supreme Court, served in that tribunal for 24 years, between 1967 until he retired in 1991. Yet, his accomplishments in the years before joining the Supreme Court probably had a greater impact on America than the near quarter-century he sat on the nation’s highest tribunal.

Born in Baltimore in 1908, the son of a railway porter father and a teacher mother, his parents instilled in him a deep reverence for the United States Constitution and the rule of law.

He graduated from Lincoln University, where his classmates included Langston Hughes and Cab Calloway. He sought to attend the University of Maryland’s school of law, which was the closest one to his home, but it barred blacks. So he went to Howard University in Washington, DC, instead, and his mother had to pawn her wedding ring to pay his entry fees.

Graduating first in his class from Howard University’s law school in 1933, Thurgood Marshall took aim at the system of legal segregation and the “separate but equal” doctrine upon which it rested and set off on a crusade to overturn both.

In charge of the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, Marshall coordinated its legal strategy with a series of strategic lawsuits to highlight the unconstitutionality of racial segregation. A gifted attorney, between 1938 and 1961, as the NAACP’s top lawyer, he argued 32 civil rights cases before the Supreme Court, winning 29 of them, including landmark legal victories that resulted in, e.g.; the outlawing of racially restrictive real estate covenants; the integration of the University of Texas; and the outlawing of whites-only political party primaries. The legal campaign culminated in Brown v. Board of Education, the seminal Supreme Court case that overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine, began the process of dismantling racial segregation and laid the legal foundation upon which the civil rights movement rested.

Indeed, it has been argued that while Martin Luther King had been the spiritual leader of the civil rights movement, Thurgood Marshall, who had been battling Jim Crow in court for decades before King, could be described as the movement’s general.

After joining the Supreme Court, Marshall, who once described his legal philosophy as “You do what you think is right, and let the law catch up“, compiled a liberal record, especially on matters of individual rights. However, his legacy and impact on the bench never equaled his legacy and impact from the decades he had spent as a lawyer arguing cases before courts. As the Supreme Court moved steadily rightwards and became more conservative over the years, Marshall found himself writing dissents on civil rights cases more often than he got to author majority opinions.

Thurgood Marshall retired from the Supreme Court in 1991 and died in 1993, aged 84. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Section 5, Grave 40-3.

10 Famous Americans Buried at Arlington National Cemetery
John Glenn in 1962. NASA

John Glenn

John Glenn was a national icon who personified the American dream, and led an extraordinary and extraordinarily full life: a US Marine; World War II piston-engine fighter pilot; Korean War jet engine fighter pilot; recipient of seventeen Air Medals, six Distinguished Flying Crosses, a Congressional Space Medal of Honor, and a Presidential Medal of Freedom; daredevil test pilot; space-traveling NASA astronaut and the first American to orbit the planet; millionaire businessman; United States Senator; and then, aged 77, a space-traveling NASA astronaut once again.

Well into his eighties, John Glenn still flew his own twin-engined airplane, drove a snazzy convertible, and speed-walked for miles around his neighborhood nearly every day.

Born in Ohio in 1921, he was raised in a bucolic setting he compared to a Norman Rockwell painting. Adventurous from an early age, Glenn had a fascination with flying. When he went up on his first plane ride in an open cockpit biplane at age 8, he was hooked.

After graduating college, he was commissioned in the United States Marine Corps in 1943. Trained as a fighter pilot, he went to war, and gained a reputation for skill and fearlessness, flying the obsolescent F4F Wildcat at first, and then the F4U Corsair.

In the Korean War, Glenn flew close ground support missions and was nicknamed “Old Magnet Ass” because of the amount of anti-aircraft fire he frequently took while flying low to attack enemy positions, once returning in a plane riddled with more than 250 holes.

He then trained to fly the new F-86 Saber jet fighter, and in the waning days of the war, shot down three MiGs – the final air victories of the Korean War.

After the Korean War, Glenn spent most of the 1950s as a test pilot, in which career he set speed records while risking his life and nearly dying on more than one occasion. He then tried out for the space program, joined the newly formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1959, and passed the rigorous testing to emerge as one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts.

He thought he would become the first American in space, but that honor went to Alan Shepherd instead. However, he did become the first American to orbit earth, flying in the Friendship 7, watched by thousands in central Florida as his Atlas rocket took off, and by millions on black and white TV sets. Early in the flight, the automatic control system failed, and Glenn had to fly manually. It was a matter of life, but he coolly took the controls, completed three orbits around the planet at speeds of 17,500 miles per hour, calmly steered through reentry, and came back to earth a national hero and an instant celebrity.

He got a New York City ticker-tape parade, spoke to a joint session of Congress, and met the President. He did not get what he wanted most, however: another launch. By then, he was over 40 years old and as such deemed too long in the tooth. Moreover, President John F. Kennedy was reluctant to risk the life of a national hero who might have a future in politics.

Retiring from NASA, Glenn returned to Ohio and made a failed bid for the US Senate in the 1960s. After that fizzled, he got a job with RC Cola where he rose to vice president, and investing in hotels near the new Disney theme park in Orlando, became a millionaire by the early 1970s.

He tried again for the US Senate but lost the primary. He tried again in 1974, and third time was the charm: he won the Democrat primary, went on to win the general election, and was comfortably reelected by Ohio voters in 1980, 1986, and 1992, serving in the Senate for 24 years, until retiring from politics in 1998.

That same year, he got another gig as an astronaut. 36 years after his first and only orbital flight, the astronaut whom NASA had deemed too old to get another launch when he was in his 40s, returned to space as a crew member of the space shuttle Discovery when he was 77, as the oldest astronaut in history and oldest human to venture into space. It was a well-earned victory lap, and a fitting reward for a man who had dutifully served his country for six decades, from the Pacific in the Second World War, to “MiG Alley” in the Korean War, to the blackness of space, and the halls of Congress.

10 Famous Americans Buried at Arlington National Cemetery
John Glenn on eve of return to space in 1998. NASA

As he later described his thoughts shortly before returning to space: “It was hard to imagine that virtually the entire history of space travel had occurred between my first ride and my second. Somebody had pointed out that more time had passed between Friendship 7 and this Discovery mission than had passed between Lindbergh’s solo trans-Atlantic flight and Friendship 7. It didn’t seem that long to me, but that is the way lives pass when you look back at them: in the blink of an eye.

John Glenn died on December 8, 2016, aged 95. His final resting place in Arlington National Cemetery is in Section 35, grave 1543.

10 Famous Americans Buried at Arlington National Cemetery
Changing of the Guard at Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. Wikimedia

The Unknowns

Buried in the Tomb of the Unknowns, they are American military personnel who died in the country’s wars without their remains having been identified. A little known fact is that the ranks of the Unknown include America’s most decorated soldier, ever. While the question “who is the most decorated soldier in the history of the United States?” might elicit responses such as Audie Murphy or Daniel J. Daly, both having won the Congressional Medal of Honor – Daly twice – in addition to numerous other medals, neither Murphy nor Daly nor any other American is as highly decorated the Unknown Soldier of the First World War.

Not only is the World War I Unknown Soldier a posthumous recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, he has also been awarded the Victoria Cross, The Legion of Honor and the Croix de Guerre, as well as the highest service awards of numerous other nations. Each of his Unknown comrades who have joined him over the years, in the aftermath of World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam, has also been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, presented by the US President presiding at his funeral.

The Tomb of the Unknowns has been guarded continuously, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, since 1937. First, by troops of the 3rd Cavalry, and since 1948, by soldiers of the 3rd US Infantry Regiment, “The Old Guard”, among whose ranks service as Sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknowns is considered one of the highest honors.

10 Famous Americans Buried at Arlington National Cemetery
Honor Guard at Tomb of the Unknown Soldier during Hurricane Sandy. NPR

Sentinels do not wear rank insignia while posted to guard the Tomb, in order to avoid the possibility of outranking any of the Unknowns, whatever their rank might have been in life. Only the Relief Commander and the Assistant Relief Commanders wear rank insignia, but only when presiding at the changing of the guard. When they themselves are posted on guard duty, they don a separate uniform without rank insignia.

10 Famous Americans Buried at Arlington National Cemetery
James John Regan. AND Magazine

James John Regan

James John Regan was not as well known as the others in this list, neither in life nor after death. He was not a highly decorated soldier. He had limitless potential but was not granted the gift of years during which he might have achieved something historic or groundbreaking. He was not a powerful politician or illustrious general. He did not get to become a revolutionary scientist or inventor, nor a business tycoon or captain of industry and commerce.

He was not a prominent writer, musician, or leading figure in culture or the arts. He did not invent a national pastime here on earth, nor did he pioneer a path to space above. He was not a famous American icon in life, and unlike his comrades interred in the Tomb of the Unknowns, he will probably not become one in death. It is unlikely that his name will be recorded in history, or that best-selling biography will be written about his life.

A sergeant in the 75th Ranger Regiment, James Regan was one of the thousands of Americans who died in an unpopular war, and by the time he was killed by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) in Iraq in 2007, such deaths had become routine for most of his fellow citizens. Other than the relatively small circle of comrades who knew him, and his loved one who will forever remember and grieve for their loss, his death went largely unnoticed by the rest of the country.

He was a patriotic man who volunteered to defend his nation, a good soldier who performed his job conscientiously and well, and one who gave his life while bravely serving his country. As with most of the hundreds of thousands who gave their lives over the centuries while fighting the country’s wars, his sacrifice was mostly unknown by the rest of America.

Sergeant Regan came back home in a coffin and was duly interred in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery, where servicemen and servicewomen of the country’s recent wars are buried. There he rested, his sacrifice unknown and unnoticed by most. Until Memorial Day, 2007, when a photographer caught a haunting and gut-punching image of Mary McHugh, Sergeant Reagan’s fiance, grieving over his grave.

10 Famous Americans Buried at Arlington National Cemetery
Mary McHugh, James John Regan’s fiance, grieving atop his grave. The Guardian

The widely published photograph viscerally reminded the country, at least for a time, of the immense price of each life lost in America’s service. That such deaths are more than brief news blurbs, and each and everyone is an individual tragedy resulting in ripples of indescribable suffering and sorrow.


Sources For Further Reading:

Smithsonian Magazine – A Brief History of Pierre L’Enfant and Washington, D.C.

Arlington National Cemetery – Pierre Charles L’Enfant

History Channel – Abner Doubleday

POLITICO – Dulles Warns Of Communist Menace, Sept. 23, 1953

Chicago Reader – The Art Of War And More From Bill Mauldin

Defense Media Network – When Willie and Joe’s Creator Bill Mauldin Met “Blood and Guts” Patton

St. Louis Post Dispatch – ‘Drawing Fire’ recounts cartooning career of ‘citizen soldier’ Mauldin

WTTW News – Military Museum Remembers the Master Cartoonist Who Was ‘Drawn to Combat’

Constitution Center – Thurgood Marshall’s unique Supreme Court legacy

NAACPLDF – Thurgood Marshall

National Geographic Channel – How Thurgood Marshall Became The First Black U.S. Supreme Court Justice

Achieve Foundation – Justice Thurgood Marshall: First African American Supreme Court Justice

The Washington Post – Three Times In His Senate Career The Late John Glenn Really Had The Right Stuff

WVXU – John Glenn’s Big Disappointment: Running For President

The Washington Post – John Glenn: The Second Time Around

Politico – John Glenn, Hero and Political Cautionary Tale

Lead The Way Fund – Sgt. James J. Regan Memorial

News Day – Manhasset Street To Be Renamed For Fallen Sgt. James J. Regan

New York Times – A Loyalty That Extended to the Uniform, and Beyond