It’s rare that a cemetery guidebook makes me cry, but the photos of families saying their final goodbyes in Where Valor Rests did me in. In fact, Where Valor Rests was a joint project created by the National Geographic and Arlington National Cemetery, designed to be given away to families as a keepsake when they bury a loved one. I imagine they will eventually come to treasure the book, but it must be immensely painful in the depth of your grief to page through it.
The book reveals much that has been hidden about Arlington, interviewing the Cemetery Ladies who console families, as well as the gravediggers, musicians who play Taps, and honor guards who accompany the caisson and fire the last salute. It’s rare that a cemetery guide pays any attention to the staff, so I appreciated the background glimpses.
That said, I wish the photos had followed a single funeral from stepping onto the cemetery grounds through final disposition, but it is possible, I think, to piece a composite ritual together out of disparate images and chapters. I’m not sure why the editors chose to break the events apart and spread them throughout the book. Much is made of the honor attendants feel while participating in funerals. I would have felt the same honor to watch them at their work.
Since the book was published by National Geographic, you can be certain that the photos within are exquisite, ranging throughout the seasons and spanning the hours, revealing the cemetery at dawn, in the moonlight, and aglow with autumn. I prefer the color images to those taken in infrared, where the straight lines of identical headstones lose their mystique. One of my favorite images is the cemetery seen from a military flyover, revealing the ways the gravestones follow the contours of the hilly ground.
This is a truly beautiful and fascinating book, a welcome addition to my collection.
Since this is a reasonably new book, it may be readily available at your local bookstore. Otherwise, you can order it from Amazon: Where Valor Rests: Arlington National Cemetery