As Hurricane Isabelle approached Washington, D.C. in September of 2003 the exodus of the city’s work force was in full gear. Supplies were swept from store shelves and windows were boarded up.
But on the hillside overlooking the Capitol a different story was playing out. At Arlington Cemetery the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier were neither fleeing the storm nor leaving their posts. As remnants of the hurricane blew through Washington, D.C. they continued marching their 21 step vigil through the tumult, day and night, guard after guard, shift after shift, pelting rain and wind driven projectiles notwithstanding. When the skies finally cleared 24 large trees had been downed by Isabel throughout the cemetery, but the tomb guards were still at their posts in honor of all the unknown men and women who had died in the service of our country.
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. Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day when Civil War soldier’s graves were decorated to honor them, is celebrated as a national holiday the last Monday in May each year for this occasion. 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. The National World War II Museum of New Orleans website lists Memorial Day activities you, your students, or your family might consider to celebrate this year. A few of their suggestions are to:
- 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
In this regard, the soldiers of the United States Army Third Infantry Regiment guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier are a wonderful example of respect that should be respected. 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 of those whom they guard and, 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 Memorial Day there will be solemn ceremonies and vibrant celebrations in cities across America honoring the men and women who have died serving the nation. If Memorial Day has simply been another day to you, I encourage you to start a new tradition in your family and attend one.
Washington, D.C. will host the annual Memorial Day Parade featuring veterans from all fifty states, the Memorial Day Concert on the Capitol grounds with the National Symphony, and the annual GI Film Festival. Over 500,000 thousand motorcycles will patrol the city all weekend in the annual Rolling Thunder Motorcycle rally for POWs. At Arlington cemetery military personnel will plant 250,000 small American flags on the graves of their comrades buried there.
And on the top of the hill overlooking Washington, D.C. the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier will also be honoring America’s heroes on Memorial Day, marching their 21 step vigil, watching over the tomb around the clock. And when all the other wonderful 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 Memorial Day every day.
What are you doing to remember our freedoms?
**Photos by Annabelle Ombac**
Posted in Staff Updates