July 3, 2018
We were privileged to watch the Changing of the Guard and a Wreath Laying Ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.
In order to understand the significance in what they were watching, I had the boys read a little about the qualifications, symbolism, and history of the tomb.
After World War I, an unknown soldier was placed in the tomb to represent all of the fallen soldiers who were never identified. Several more soldiers representing subsequent wars have also been interned here as well. Over time, people who visited this hallowed ground began to take it for granted. They treated it as a park, having picnics and playing games around it, disrespecting the area. Veterans were understandably upset and something had to be done. This was when they developed the on-going rituals at the tomb.
In order for the guard to be qualified he or she must go through a very rigid training process. In order to qualify in the first place, the soldiers must meet a minimum height requirement and be personally living in an utmost responsible way. They must come from a good family and not have any legal or debt issues following them. Then they have a tremendous amount of book work and hours of practice to ensure all of their appearance and actions are flawless. Only 20% of those who try actually make it to become a part of the honor guard.
While standing guard, the honor guard performs an on-going military salute of highest honor. The 21 gun salute is symbolized in the 21 steps he takes as well as the 21 seconds facing the tomb. If for some reason someone is loud or needs reprimanding, he is the one to maintain order and addresses that person.
During the ceremonies I was encouraged to see how the guards commanded the audience. No “if you feel compelled to” apologetic statements begging people to comply. Everyone had to stand. Active service military had to salute at a specific time while everyone else had to place their right hand over their heart. The order was clear and respectful. None of the political taking a knee or sitting it out type of stuff was permitted. This was the respect we owed to those unknowns who gave their lives for our freedom we take for granted today. The audience complied.
Shortly after the Changing of the Guard was completed, a Wreath Laying Ceremony took place. In our case, a middle school group participated in the process of presenting a wreath. I thought about how those kids will forever remember that day to represent their group. The guards skillfully directed these young people to follow their lead in the protocol there as well.
What we witnessed there that day left an imprint in my whole family’s minds. Those men may only be “known but to God”, but they represented a tremendous amount of unknown soldiers who died for our freedom. I was grateful the boys considered this as the highlight of their day instead of everything else we saw.
Until we meet again,