An Unexpected Encounter With Maureen O’Hara

You don’t go to Arlington National Cemetery looking for the graves of classic Hollywood stars.

And yet I found one.

Arlington National Cemetery is a place that inspires awe and humility, the final resting place for over 400,000 American veterans and their spouses.  There are veterans from every branch of the military and from every American war, going all the back to the Revolutionary War.

On my last visit in the summer of 2018, I nearly twisted my ankle looking for the spot where Ruth Bader Ginsburg would eventually be buried.  (Which I wrote about here.)  Her husband was already buried there, and I paid my respects to the man behind the woman I so admired.

It took a long time to find Martin Ginsburg in 2018, but now that RGB is laid to rest, there’s a path to the stone, a chain around it, and a tour stop.

I paid my respects.

I also found the grave of Colin Powell, former Secretary of State and Army General who served in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf and passed away in 2021.

I found the headstone of Michael Strank, one of the young men who raised the flag in Iwo Jima during World War II that is captured in an immortal photograph.

He didn’t make it off the island alive, killed in action at 25.

He’s been dead for 77 years.

Section 60 is where you find the fresh flowers.

I saw headstones with birth dates later than mine from the men and women who’ve died in Afghanistan.  Then I saw all the blank spaces on the headstones, awaiting the widows and widowers who will live on for decades without the spouse cut down in the prime of life by war.

When you stand on Eisenhower Drive and see curved white headstones that seemingly go on forever in every direction, partisan divisions disappear.

These are my fellow Americans, every one.

And yet there was room for a moment of levity.

I was browsing through the cemetery’s gift shop, which had a shelf of books on JFK, RBG, and war heroes.  Suddenly I caught sight of a book I recognized—a copy was currently on my nightstand back home.

There was a single copy of ‘Tis Herself, the autobiography of Maureen O’Hara, known for her role in Miracle on 34th Street (1947), and several films with John Wayne, including The Quiet Man (1952) and Rio Grande (1950.)

And crucially for me—and the reason the book is on my nightstand—O’Hara starred in Dance, Girl, Dance (1940) the most well-known film directed by Dorothy Arzner, about whom I’m currently writing in my Wednesday Golden Age of Hollywood posts.

Seeing O’Hara’s autobiography there sent a frisson of excitement through me, because it could only mean one thing—as unlikely as it would seem, the Irish-born actress once dubbed the Queen of Technicolor must be buried in America’s greatest cemetery for veterans.

And I wasn’t leaving until I found her.

Which turned out to be no easy task, as she’s buried under her real maiden and married name—Maureen Fitzsimmons Blair, wife of Charles F. Blair, Brigadier General of the U.S. Air Force.

Fellow history buffs will know the thrill of finding two completely different strands of history intersecting in surprising ways.

The search was on—one that turned out to be much more difficult than the one for Martin Ginsburg 4 years ago, though my ankles went unscathed.

So next time you’re in Arlington, get off at the stop for John F. Kennedy and make your way to Section 2, Grave 4966.

Say hello and leave a penny for the Queen of Technicolor.

Gone but not forgotten.

Lucille Ball, Maureen O’Hara in Dance, Girl, Dance (1940)

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