In the chill predawn air, the the rumble of shuttles and soft sounds of instruments being tuned broke the usual quiet surrounding Arlington National Cemetery early Sunday.
An estimated 4,000 visitors gathered to attend the Easter sunrise service, a 20-plus year tradition at what many consider to be this nation's most hallowed ground.
The non-denominational worship service featured live music from the U.S. Army Band and a sermon by Gen. Charles "Ray" Bailey, U.S. Army deputy chief of chaplains.
"This will be my first time conducting for the Easter sunrise and I'm really looking forward to it," said Capt. Richard A. Winkels, associate conductor of the U.S. Army Band. "Many of our band members had very early mornings and were up at 3:30 or 4 a.m. preparing for this, but we're excited for the honor."
Enthusiasm and a desire to pay respect seemed to be the common thread that inspired both civilian and military personnel to roust themselves out of bed for the service.
"Living here I think we often take for granted the opportunities we have," said Maryland resident Liz Sadler, who attended the sunrise service for the first time this year. "I thought it would be nice to get up a little earlier and remember to count the blessings we have."
She added: "Walking through the cemetery this morning was poignant. I was reminded of the sacrifices these men and women have made and feel deeply grateful."
Visitors traveled from as far as Pennsylvania, and the amphitheater's available seats were almost completely filled when the service began.
"It's amazing that so many people got up this morning to attend the service, especially at a time when for many in our society religion is becoming less important," said Chaplain Clyde Scott, who read the morning's call to prayer.
That theme continued in the sermon, which was about the importance of maintaining spirituality at a time when many things in society and our world are in flux — seeing religion as a set of principles that one can reference or know to be true in the midst of many things changing.
As the sun rose and the sky gradually turned from deep blue to pink, the first rays of sunlight shone into the amphitheater and cast the morning's proceedings in beautiful golden light.
For those who made the trip, it was a beautiful event.
Click here to see a photo gallery from this year's sunrise service at Arlington National Cemetery.