Why are coins left on veterans’ graves?

Why are coins left on grave stones at Arlington National Cemetery? Particularly, the graves of Robert F. Kennedy and his brother Teddy plus World War II hero Audey Murphy.

I thought it was something senseless the school kids did. Maybe something to do with paying the ferryman to carry the deceased across the river to the afterlife.

Recently, a veteran told me it had something to do with those who served with the deceased. Several websites like the Quad City Times confirmed what I’ve heard from vets.

Coins left on graves

Coins left on graves

A penny means the person visiting was a friend or acquaintance.

A nickel means they went through basic training together.

A dime means they served in another platoon of the same company or in the same battle.

A quarter means they served in the same outfit or were with the person when they died.

The practice reportedly dates back to the Roman empire in seventh century B.C., but carried over to the U.S. after the Vietnam War as a down payment on a future game of cards or beer together. Many longtime guides say they’ve only seen the coins in recent years.

The money is eventually collected and added to the cemetery’s general fund.

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Buffalo boys won’t you come out tonight

I have long heard about the bridge with buffalos and never realized how closely I walked by them. The bridge is just one block south of Sheridan Circle on Massachusetts Ave. N.W.

The Dumbarton Bridge has four buffalos overlooking Rock Creek Park. The span is supposed to resemble a Roman aqueduct and has a 12 percent horizontal curve, which is pretty unusual.

The 7-foot buffalos guard each corner of the bridge that was built in 1914. They were designed by A. Phimister Proctor, who also created the tigers on the 16th St. bridge. During the unveiling party, guests ate buffalo burgers. Gotta love that. Today, it’s a quiet corner and a great one to admire the buffalo.

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The Geronimo marker, well sorta

Geronimo surrenders

Sometimes a really strange marker hits you when passing by. Wait, was that Geronimo surrendering in Arlington National cemetery?

Well, yes it is, but the marker celebrates the person buried there who captured the Apache leader — George Crook.

Located at the final turn of the dirt path to Arlington House (straight ahead just when turning left) is the back side of Crook’s memorial. The large granite marker has a bas relief on the back showing the 1883 surrender of Geronimo (center) along with Crook (right) and other soldiers and braves.

Crook (1830-90) became a brigadier general during the Civil War. He was taken prisoner in 1865 before exchanged for Confederate prisoners and finished the war with the Army of the Potomac.

Crook then served out west fighting Apache, Sioux and Cheyenne Indians. He later caught Geronimo in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico. Ironically, Crook became known as an advocate for indians that he felt were mistreated by government officials. He served 38 years in the army before dying at age 59.

The steps leading from Arlington House to the Tomb of the Unknowns is also named the Crook Walk after him.

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DuPont Circle in the summertime

DuPont Circle

DuPont Circle

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How to find your state at the World War II Memorial

The first thing tourists look for at the World War II Memorial isn’t the magnificent fountain, the stars that each represent 100 dead U.S. soldiers, bas relief art by the entrance or names of the battles.

No, they want to take a photo by their state columns.

Fair enough. But then they try to figure out where it is, thinking it’s by region. Sorry, doesn’t quite work that way, but there is a method of the madness.

Military ceremonies always have the lead officer’s next in command to the right and their No. 2 to the left. With your back to the wall of stars, the first state in the country is Delaware on the right, the second state is Pennsylvania to the left. It then alternates – No. 3 on right, No. 4 on left and so on.

Most people don’t know what number their state was when entering the union, but they have a general idea so early states are on the stars side, later states and territories by 17th St. There are 48 states and eight territories at the time of World War II represented. Hawaii and Alaska have since become states, but the number is still the same.

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Wandering along Embassy Row: Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

Mustafa Kemal AtaturkMy first walk along Embassy Row found a new statue since my last stroll. is in front of the Republic of Turkey embassy’s official residence. “The Father of Turks” was a World War I military officer who later served as Turkey’s first president in 1920-21.

Washington donated space for the statue in 2013. The capital of Turkey, Ankara,, and Washington became sister cities in October 2011. The statue was dedicated on the 90th anniversary of the founding of Turkey. Its sculptor was Jeffery L. Hall.

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Welcome to the Phillips Collection

Phillips Collection

Phillips Collection

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Motherland hugs the American Red Cross

American Red Cross


In appreciation of U.S. aid to Armenian earthquake victims, sculptor Friedrich Sogoyan created an oversized mother hugging her child based upon a woman who survived several days in the rubble with her child.

The Dec. 7, 1988 earthquake killed more than 30,000 and injured more than 200,000.

A native Armenian who was a famous sculptor of Russian monuments, Sogoyan created the bronze statue and donated it to the American Red Cross building on 17th St. N.W. in 1990. It’s to the right of the main entrance.

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Air Force Memorial rises above Washington

Air Force Memorial


It lies between Arlington National Cemetery, Navy Annex and the Pentagon, but the Air Force Memorial can be seen many places around town. Indeed, you can also see much of Washington from the memorial.

Built in 2006 to remember the 53,000 that died serving in the Air Force and its 1909-1947 predecessors serving under the U.S. Army, the memorial has three spires rising 201, 231 and 270 feet respectively. They are the contrails of the Thunderbirds during bomb blast maneuver. Stainless steel covers the 600 ton concrete spires created by Zenos Frudakis. Below the spires is the Air Force star that is its symbol since World War II. Nearby is a U.S. Air Force Honor Guard.

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Kilroy was here

Kilroy was here

He was the best known image of the American GI during World War II even if everybody claimed his name.

“Kilroy was here” was a popular phrase accompanied by a drawing of a bald man looking over a wall that GIs scribbled as they advanced through Europe. Hitler thought Kilroy was some super spy or a code name. Stalin asked about him, too. Sorry guys, it was a prank.

Kilroy was so popular during World War II that it’s on the outside of the World War II Memorial behind the wall of stars. Look to the left of Delaware and right of Pennsylvania on the outer wall. My photo has a shadow diagonally across and isn’t original art.

The real Kilroy was believed to be James J. Kilroy, a rivets inspector at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, Mass. Riveters were paid by the number of rivets each day and would place check marks when finishing each day so Kilroy and other inspectors could count them. But, some riveters started erasing the chalk line and putting a new one several rivets back so they could steal the money from the previous worker. Kilroy would leave his mark by the chalk marks to prevent the next riveter from changing it. Thus, “Kilroy was here” stopped cheats and started a legend. That the rivets were inside ship bulkheads made it seem mysterious whenever opened.

Servicemen liked seeing Kilroy’s name as some sort of protective talisman. Soon, they started marking enemy areas to show successors where the first troops were. It became a badge of honor to do so.

Kilroy markings are reportedly on the Statue of Liberty, Arch de Triomphe, atop Mt. Everest and even on the dust of the moon.

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Tuskegee Airmen remembered with sugar maple tree

Tuskegee Airmen

They were the best escort airmen in World War II and today the Tuskegee Airmen are remembered at Arlington National Cemetery with a sugar maple tree near the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Arlington’s grounds are beautiful, especially this time of year with the leaves changing. There are 142 memorial trees with a plaque or marker plus hundreds more planted in memory of those buried.

The Tuskegee Airmen tree was dedicated in November 1995. The plaque says, “Two hundred strategic bomber escort missions over Europe with the 15th Air Force without the loss of a single bomber to enemy aircraft, 1944-1945, a record unsurpassed.”

Tuskegee Airmen

The Tuskegee Airmen were the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group as part of the Army Air Corps. They were the first African American military aviators. The 477th never saw combat, but the 332nd first saw action in Sicily and Italy before becoming bomber escorts throughout Europe.

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Wordless Wednesday: Another stroll through Georgetown

Georgetown Photo Tour -

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Life and death at the Vietnam Wall

Vietnam Wall

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Every day is Memorial Day at the Vietnam Wall

Vietnam Wall

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Anton Hilberath: The German soldier in Arlington National Cemetery

Anton Hilberath


Anton Hilberath is an enigma surrounded by children.

Hilberath’s the only German soldier from World War II buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The First Sergeant of the Wehrmacht was among 830 German prisoners of war that died in the U.S.

Anything else about Hilberath requires plenty of patience and a translator. After a few dozen hours on the internet and couple conversations with older friends with military backgrounds, I pieced together some thoughts.

Hilberath died April 21, 1946 while working on Maryland’s Eastern Shore’s farms. Wait, that was a year after the war’s end. What were German prisoners still doing here? Turns out nobody was in a hurry to repatriate POWs across the Atlantic.

How did Hilberath end up at Arlington? Under the Geneva Convention, prisoners were given military funerals at the nearest government cemetery. At the time that was Arlington.

Anton Hilberath

After dying of an undisclosed illness, Hilberath along with deceased Italian soldiers Arcangelo Prudenza and Mario Batista were buried in Arlington. The marker doesn’t note Hilberath’s Nov. 19, 1898 birthdate, only his death, nationality and rank.

All three lie in Section 15C not far from the Tomb of the Unknowns and one section over from the Confederate memorial and graves. Hilberath lies amid children of U.S. soldiers with no marker to the immediate left of him.

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Wordless Wednesday: World War II Memorial

World War II Memorial

World War II Memorial

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Alfaro: the Old Warrior of Ecuador

In the row of bronze busts outside the Organization of American States along Constitution Ave. is Eloy Alfaro, the former president of Ecuador whose full name was José Eloy Alfaro Delgado.

Alfaro (1842 –1912) was the president from 1895 to 1901 and 1906 to 1911. He was known as Viejo Luchador (Old Warrior) for opposing conservatism for 30 years. Alfaro is best known for modernizing his country’s transportation and education system.

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Sky Landscape is for the 99 percenters

Sky Landscape

For everyone who was told they’re not good enough, those who spent years trying to make it, that sacrificed everything for their dream — Sky Landscape is for you.

Louise Nevelson struggled for many years after arriving from Kiev, Russia. Working with odd objects found on the streets of New York from toilet seats to wine crates, Nevelson didn’t hit it big until the 1950s. Now you can find her work in the National Gallery of Art and most major museums nationwide. Not bad for someone who once hung out with Willem de Koonig and Pablo Picasso.

Nevelson created Sky Landscape in 1983. The 30-foot steel sculpture atop a granite base rests at Vermont Ave. and L St. N.W. Certainly, it represents Nevelson’s eclectic style.

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Under the spreading Lincoln oak tree

Lincoln oak tree

An old stump is all that’s left of one of the older trees ever around Washington.

The Lincoln Oak, named for president Abraham Lincoln meeting under its expansive branches with local military leaders during the Civil War, was destroyed by lightning in 1994.

The tree was believed to date back to around 1510. That’s 601 years ago! The oak was supposedly 173 years old when the nearby Old Spring House was built in 1683.

Ft. Lincoln Cemetery officials planted new white oak to replace the Lincoln Oak, but we’ll have to wait until 2610 to see if it’s worthy of its predecessor.

See you there. Well, my great, great, great, great grandson will be there.

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Cordell Hull: Father of the United Nations

Cordell Hull

It’s strange how everyone knows President Woodrow Wilson was instrumental in the League of Nations that the U.S. never joined, but few recall the key person starting the United Nations.

Cordell Hull merits only a three-foot bronze bust outside the Organization of American States along Constitution Ave. between 17th and 18th Sts. — and it’s only a copy.

Hull was born in a log cabin in 1871 where he became a lawyer and then a captain in the Spanish-American War. Hull spent 22 years as a Congressman before elected to the Senate in 1931. Two years later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Hull to Secretary of State because of the latter’s open trade policies.

Hull openly courted Latin American countries, hence his memorial’s placement, but perhaps the most famous act was delivering an edict to the Japanese just days before Pearl Harbor’s bombing to stop military aggression.

For his role in founding the UN, Hull received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1945.

Beneath his bust on the base, it reads: Let each American nation vie with the other in the practice of the policy of the good neighbor. Peace must be our passion.

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