Arlington National Cemetery
This arti­cle is part 7 of 17 in the series The D.C. Reunion

It was about 12:50 when the cab dropped me off near the vis­i­tor’s cen­ter at Arlington.  I paid and tipped the dri­ver, and walked up to the build­ing entrance, weav­ing through a con­tin­u­ous stream of tourists and scan­ning the area to spot L.T.

It was he who spot­ted me first.  “Michael!” he sang out, wav­ing his arm in the air so I could see him above the heads of the sur­round­ing and milling throng.

 I made my way over to him.  “Wow, this is a pop­u­lar place,” I offered.

“Popular and solemn,” he replied.  “And they con­duct funer­als here every day even in the midst of these huge crowds.  You’d be sur­prised how much rev­er­ence is shown when a funer­al is under­way.  People speak in hushed tones and move to stay out of the way when nec­es­sary.  Sometimes there’s some­one who might be a lit­tle unruly dur­ing the chang­ing of the guard, but I’ve seen instances when near­by bystanders will cor­rect some­one who is not show­ing the prop­er respect.  This is tru­ly a dif­fer­ent type of place.  It evokes a lot of dif­fer­ent reactions.”

My mind slipped back to my vis­it to the Punchbowl in Honolulu, when I came close to elim­i­nat­ing L.T. under false assump­tions.  The Punchbowl is not near­ly so large as Arlington, but a vis­i­tor there can­not help but feel the solem­ni­ty of the place.

“Let’s grab a sand­wich here and take it with us into the park.  We can find a bench there and relax for a few min­utes.  Then I’ll give you the nick­el tour.” 

L.T.‘s com­ments brought me back to the moment. We worked our way into the snack bar, where we ordered sand­wich­es and drinks and made our way through the vis­i­tor’s cen­ter and out onto the macadam path lead­ing to the inte­ri­or of the ceme­tery. Presently we found an unoc­cu­pied bench, grate­ful­ly shad­ed by a huge oak tree still cling­ing tena­cious­ly to its leaves as autumn approached. 

We sat and con­sumed our sim­ple lunch fare while L.T. gave me a quick run­down of the his­to­ry of the place: its con­fis­ca­tion from the Lee fam­i­ly, how the JFK gravesite was deter­mined, some of the great mil­i­tary names that were buried here, and, on a neg­a­tive note, how some of the buri­als had been bun­gled and remains put in the wrong place.  All just the fab­ric of a one hun­dred and fifty year his­to­ry.  Off in the dis­tance, we could glimpse a cais­son and cortège mov­ing slow­ly to anoth­er bur­ial site.  Within min­utes we would be able to hear the crack of rifles and the peal of Taps sig­nal­ing anoth­er interment.

L.T.‘s descrip­tion of the place as “solemn” was begin­ning to become real for me.

Depositing our paper trash and cups in a near­by con­tain­er, L.T. and I began a leisure­ly walk through the ceme­tery. We occa­sion­al­ly stopped to read the inscrip­tion of a head­stone, some of the great and note­wor­thy, and many of the minor indi­vid­u­als who earned the right to rest here in this place.

As we walked, L.T. pulled from his pock­et a 5 by 7 print of our quar­ry, Armin Panghurst.

“Well, you were right,” I said.  “With this beard, it might have been dif­fi­cult for me to rec­og­nize him.  Of course, the white hair would have helped, but if he’d real­ly want­ed to draw less atten­tion to him­self, he could have dyed his hair and beard a dif­fer­ent col­or.  But he would have had a hard­er time hid­ing that tell-tale scar.”

“You know, Michael,” L.T. inject­ed, “we can’t quite fig­ure out why he’s not mak­ing any effort to change his appear­ance.  He undoubt­ed­ly knows he’s being sur­veilled but does­n’t seem the least bit inter­est­ed in try­ing to throw his fol­low­ers off this trail.  Very odd.”

“Maybe not so odd.  Keeping some­one under sur­veil­lance while trav­el­ing is a lot eas­i­er than doing so when that per­son is mov­ing around in a large city with the abil­i­ty to move into and out of build­ings and through a myr­i­ad of streets, alleys, and dif­fer­ent con­veyance types.”

“All the more rea­son to inter­cept him when he gets here.  If he man­ages to lose us once he’s here, we may nev­er pick him up again.”

“I think our plan at this point is our best shot to keep him in tow,” I responded.

“That reminds me, Michael.  Here’s the board­ing pass for your flight from Boston.  We found that there’s an American flight com­ing into Dulles from Boston just a few min­utes before Panghurst’s flight from Nassau.

“There’s just one prob­lem.  The flight from Boston is com­ing into a gate on anoth­er con­course.  If Panghurst were to check, he’d prob­a­bly begin to ques­tion why you would be in the area where he’s debarking.”

“Guess we’ll just have to take that chance.  This board­ing pass is real­ly just an addi­tion­al piece of insur­ance any­way.  It’s unlike­ly that he’ll ever see it or have rea­son to and even less like­ly that he’d notice the dif­fer­ence between the gates of the two flights.  These types of capers can hard­ly ever be planned to such a degree that noth­ing can go wrong.  I real­ize that I’ve got to take some chances.  I’d just like to reduce them as much as pos­si­ble and I think we’ve done that.”

“I hope you’re right.  Anyway, we’ll have your back.”

“Not too close, L.T.  He’ll already be expect­ing to be watched.  Let’s give him some rope.  We can always reel him back in when the time comes.”

  • Chuck Witt

    Chuck is a retired archi­tect, a for­mer news­pa­per colum­nist, and a life­long res­i­dent of Winchester.

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