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I never thought I would take pictures at a funeral, much less one at Arlington National Cemetery. But on a sweltering mid-July afternoon, with a heat index of 105 degrees, I had the opportunity to go behind the camera and capture the ceremony honoring retired U.S. Air Force Col. Thomas R. Kelley.
More than 400,000 active service members, veterans and their family members are buried on the 624-acre site just across the river from our nation’s Capitol. During the work week, Arlington conducts 27 to 30 funerals each day, with six to eight services on Saturdays. The total is nearly 7,000 services each year; the waiting list for a burial can range from two to six months after a person’s death.
Col. Kelley, a pilot who served two tours in Vietnam with 199 combat and rescue missions, died on May 2, 2013 at age 78. His burial was July 17.
As you might expect, all aspects of the ceremony are precisely choreographed and synchronized, from the meeting time at the Arlington administration building to the lone bugler playing the 24 notes of Taps. On this day, while family members walked on foot down the hill to lot 60, 23 cars followed the horse-drawn caisson that carried Col. Kelley’s flag-draped casket to his final resting place.
For more information about Arlington, go to www.arlingtoncemetery.mil.