WASHINGTON D.C., September 27, 2017-- A soldier leading the funeral service watches as the detail lifts the flag in preparation for its folding.  Photo by Taylor Mickal

WASHINGTON D.C., September 27, 2017-- A soldier leading the funeral service watches as the detail lifts the flag in preparation for its folding. Photo by Taylor Mickal

 

There is reverence in death.

And between the gates of the Arlington National Cemetery, the highest form of this reverence can be found in every inch of its rolling hills and marbled slates of stone.

There are many memorials in Washington D.C., but none command the quiet and respect of their visitors like Arlington. Through its lengthy winding walkways and steep pathways the cemetery remains silent, despite the crowds that pass through them.

Each day, however, the sound of rifle fire and a single bugle can be heard multiple times; each instance signifying the burial of a new member of the cemetery.

 WASHINGTON D.C., October 05, 2017-- (Left) A bugler plays Taps among the marbled graves. (Right) A squad of seven rifles are fired three times in quick succession. The ceremonial act originates from the European dynastic wars; the dead and wounded would be removed from the battlefield. Once done, three shots would be fired to signal that the fighting could continue.  Photo by Taylor Mickal

WASHINGTON D.C., October 05, 2017-- (Left) A bugler plays Taps among the marbled graves. (Right) A squad of seven rifles are fired three times in quick succession. The ceremonial act originates from the European dynastic wars; the dead and wounded would be removed from the battlefield. Once done, three shots would be fired to signal that the fighting could continue. Photo by Taylor Mickal

 WASHINGTON D.C., October 05, 2017-- A single bugle player sounds off "Taps" during a military funeral. The solemn  melody resounds through the otherwise quiet cemetery-- even the birds are silenced by it.  Photo by Taylor Mickal.

WASHINGTON D.C., October 05, 2017-- A single bugle player sounds off "Taps" during a military funeral. The solemn  melody resounds through the otherwise quiet cemetery-- even the birds are silenced by it. Photo by Taylor Mickal.

 WASHINGTON D.C., September 27, 2017-- (Top) Eight soldiers carry the casket briskly and purposefully across the grounds to where it will be lowered beneath the surface. They move with precision and certainty in their every step, as seen so clearly in this photograph. (Bottom) The leading soldier stands fast as the flag is carefully folded.  Photo by Taylor Mickal

WASHINGTON D.C., September 27, 2017-- (Top) Eight soldiers carry the casket briskly and purposefully across the grounds to where it will be lowered beneath the surface. They move with precision and certainty in their every step, as seen so clearly in this photograph. (Bottom) The leading soldier stands fast as the flag is carefully folded. Photo by Taylor Mickal

Each ceremony is different. Some take place beneath tents and consist of prayers over an urn. Others are full-honors burials that include bands, carriages, rifle squads, and even flyovers by jets. But every ceremony is reverent, and there is a precise and careful nature in which each one is carried out.

There is always a folded flag. 

 WASHINGTON D.C., September 27, 2017-- Two soldiers finish folding the flag that draped the casket of this fallen brother-in-arms. Of all the military ceremonies I have witness in my lifetime, none have the carefulness and precision that is displayed so profoundly in these burials.  Photo by Taylor Mickal

WASHINGTON D.C., September 27, 2017-- Two soldiers finish folding the flag that draped the casket of this fallen brother-in-arms. Of all the military ceremonies I have witness in my lifetime, none have the carefulness and precision that is displayed so profoundly in these burials. Photo by Taylor Mickal

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have had the privilege to photograph these funerals four times now. And each time I find myself still in awe of the beautiful care in each one. The way the flag is folded. The steadfast stoic nature of each soldier or sailor who bears the casket. All of it is so expertly executed.

Each act is carried out with precision, and every hand movement and step has been choreographed. I always find this most notable when the casket is being carried-- the soldiers move with purpose but never do they fall out of sync.

Most of those now buried in Arlington Cemetery have lived long lives, and are put to rest among the many graves-- in stark contrast-- of those from past conflicts who were often barely in their twenties. While there are certainly tears shed each time, the ceremonies for these elder men and women are almost peaceful; they come with the acknowledgement that the time has come to move on from this life, as it does for us all. 

 WASHINGTON D.C., April 21, 2018-- A widow clutches the flag as she gives her last goodbyes to a dearly missed husband.  P  hoto by Taylor Mickal

WASHINGTON D.C., April 21, 2018-- A widow clutches the flag as she gives her last goodbyes to a dearly missed husband. Photo by Taylor Mickal

On rare and unfortunate occasion, there will be a young life brought to Arlington. During my time here, it was 20-year-old Kevin Bushell-- a U.S. Navy sailor who was killed in a tragic accident aboard the U.S.S. John McCain. A young burial like his will always be drastically different; it’s much more difficult to accept when a life is taken so unexpectedly and so soon. When I photographed Kevin’s funeral, it was unlike any of the others; no ceremony was filled with so much heartache.

 WASHINGTON D.C., October 05, 2017-- The Chaplain gives his service as the funeral commences. There is a strain in his voice as he pushes through to deliver, his words falling softly on those listening.  Photo by Taylor Mickal

WASHINGTON D.C., October 05, 2017-- The Chaplain gives his service as the funeral commences. There is a strain in his voice as he pushes through to deliver, his words falling softly on those listening. Photo by Taylor Mickal

 WASHINGTON D.C., October 05, 2017-- The lead Admiral stands at attention as the flag begins to be folded.  Photo by Taylor Mickal

WASHINGTON D.C., October 05, 2017-- The lead Admiral stands at attention as the flag begins to be folded. Photo by Taylor Mickal

 WASHINGTON D.C., October 05, 2017-- The first flag of three goes to the Kevin's wife. The admiral thanks her for his service to country and shares a few words in private condolence. The following two flags will go to his mother and father only moments later.  Photo by Taylor Mickal

WASHINGTON D.C., October 05, 2017-- The first flag of three goes to the Kevin's wife. The admiral thanks her for his service to country and shares a few words in private condolence. The following two flags will go to his mother and father only moments later. Photo by Taylor Mickal

 WASHINGTON D.C., October 05, 2017-- Kevin's father made several returns to the casket, unable to leave his son's side. On the third return, he fell to his knees and wept-- the agony of the loss to heavy to bear in the moment.  Photo by Taylor Mickal

WASHINGTON D.C., October 05, 2017-- Kevin's father made several returns to the casket, unable to leave his son's side. On the third return, he fell to his knees and wept-- the agony of the loss to heavy to bear in the moment. Photo by Taylor Mickal

 WASHINGTON D.C., March 02, 2018-- A woman grieves over her husband's casket.  Photo by Taylor Mickal

WASHINGTON D.C., March 02, 2018-- A woman grieves over her husband's casket. Photo by Taylor Mickal

Photographing these funerals is often difficult in many regards. Not only because of the physical demand in being everywhere at once, while simultaneously being as unobtrusive as possible, but because of the emotional toll it takes to be a part of these sometimes devastating events. But it is work that I find immense honor in doing, and it holds a personal place in my heart to make images of such important moments.

As I leave each funeral, I am always humbled and moved by the sheer number of graves I pass on my way out of the cemetery. To date, there are over 400,000 people buried in Arlington. The stones go on for what seems like miles; an endless set of rolling hills covered in this marble field of souls.

 WASHINGTON D.C., September 27, 2017-- The casket is left to be lowered beneath the ground, where it will soon join the others of those brothers and sisters in arms.  Photo by Taylor Mickal

WASHINGTON D.C., September 27, 2017-- The casket is left to be lowered beneath the ground, where it will soon join the others of those brothers and sisters in arms. Photo by Taylor Mickal