“Here Rests In Honored Glory An American Soldier Known But To God”
Inscription at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery
World War I ended with an armistice, or cease of hostilities, on November 11, 1918. This day became known as Armistice Day to honor those who fought in the World War I, and was declared a national holiday by Congress in 1938. In 1954, Congress changed the name to Veterans Day to honor Veterans of all wars.
Veterans Day is an especially solemn time at Arlington National Cemetery for the guards, family members, and visitors. The guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier continue marching their 21-step vigil through the tumult, day and night, guard after guard, shift after shift, through all types of weather. Honoring the men and women who have paid the ultimate price by giving their lives to defend the Constitution has been a long tradition in our nation. The cemetery is a place for reflection and remembrance for all of those who died protecting our freedoms. The soldiers of the United States Army Third Infantry Regiment guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier are a wonderful example of respect. Their unbroken chain of dedication guarding the tomb around the clock stretches back 74 years. They actually live beneath the tomb, their barracks in close proximity to those they guard. When on duty, they “walk the mat” with full exposure to the elements in all weather conditions.
The tomb holds the bodies of a three unknown American soldiers; one from World War I, one form World War II and one form the Korean War. To the guards watching over them, they represent all American unknown military personnel who have been lost at war. To honor them all, the tomb guards adhere to some of the military’s highest codes of conduct, toughest etiquette and uniform requirements, and most rigorous sentinel training. The precise 21-step pattern they march comports with the traditional honor guard 21-gun salute. Everything is done with excellence in respect for their comrades and what they, and their sacrifice, represent to the American republic.
On October 24 of this year, Jewish chaplains were honored at a ceremony dedicating the Jewish Chaplains Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. The ceremony was a cross-faith celebration of the sacrifices made by the chaplains. The Air Force Chief of Chaplains Major General Cecil Richardson said, “The 14 men we honor here today were rabbis in uniform. These men did much more than preach sermons … They walked where warriors walked, and that is what made them military chaplains.” Arlington is home to memorials for those who died in battles, presidents, nurses, the Space Shuttle disasters, and others who served their country with valor. The Jewish chaplains are now included in that group.
Taking a few moments to ponder the sacrifices these heroes have made to secure our freedom is a worthy endeavor. Informing young people, and all citizens, about the importance of honoring those who have died for America is a tradition that must be taught. A few Veterans Day activities you, students, or families can participate in include:
- Honor a veteran on Your Facebook page
- Organize a school or family or community observance
- Place a flag on a Veteran’s grave
- Conduct an oral history interview with a veteran you know
- Write a letter to the newspaper (or a blog) to commemorate this special occasion
On the top of the hill overlooking Washington, D.C. the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier will be honoring America’s heroes on Veterans Day, marching their 21-step vigil, watching over the tomb around the clock. And when all the other commemorative celebrations have ended, they will still be there to us remind us that those who have given their lives for this nation deserve a Veterans Day every day.
The Veterans Day National Ceremony is held each year on November 11th at Arlington National Cemetery. See the United States Department of Veteran’s Affairs website to learn more about Veterans Day history, teaching guides, and celebrations held throughout the country.
What are you doing to remember our Veterans?