The second event of note in this week is Veterans' Day November 11. For a long time we called it Armistice Day, marking the end of World War I in 1918. In our more modern version, it is a day set aside to honor the bravery and sacrifice of those willing to take up arms in defense of our country and other countries where the benefits of freedom may be unknown. On Veterans' Day, we should find and thank a military person who was willing to make the sacrifice to uphold American liberty. When I hear the strains of our "Star Spangled Banner," and see Old Glory flying aloft, my patriotism is lifted to a high level. I exult that America is still "the home of the brave."
A most majestic place I have visited several times is Arlington National Cemetery just outside Washington, DC at Arlington, Virginia. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (now called the Tomb of the Unknowns) holds prominence at the front of the stately Arlington Memorial Amphitheater where people gather to watch the changing of the guard and for memorial services.
Tomb of the Unknowns
On the tomb is inscribed these words: "Here Rests In Honored Glory An American Soldier Known But To God."
The interment in the tomb of the first selected Unknown Soldier occurred November 11, 1921. Killed in World War I, he was selected by US Army Sergeant Edward F. Younger from four American soldiers fatally wounded in combat, none of which were identified. At the city hall of Chalons-sur-Marne, France on October 24, 1921, Sgt. Younger placed white roses on the third casket from the left, and in that manner designated the Unknown Soldier of World War I. Any of the four could have been selected for all were worthy. The other three were interred in the Meuse Argonne Cemetery in France.
The World War I selected Unknown Soldier was returned to America aboard the USS Olympia. His flag-draped casket lay in the Capitol Rotunda from his arrival in the United States until Armistice Day, November 11, 1921. His remains were then transferred to Arlington National Cemetery. President Warren G. Harding presided at the impressive ceremony honoring America's Unknown Soldier.
Later, unknown soldiers from World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War were interred in crypts west of the World War I Unknown Soldier. The dates of these burials, and the president leading the memorial services were, respectively: May 30, 1958 for both World War II and the Korean War with President Dwight Eisenhower; and May 28, 1984 for the Vietnam War Unknown, with President Ronald Reagan. However, due to DNA tests, the Vietnam Unknown was identified as 1st Lt. Michael J. Blassie of the US Air Force. His family had his remains disinterred and buried him near their home in St. Louis, Missouri. Since his remains were moved May 14, 1998, the Vietnam Unknown crypt has remained empty.
The sentinels who guard the Tomb 24 hours a day, 365 days a year (366 in Leap Year) are from the Third United States Infantry Regiment, sometimes called "The Old Guard." They subscribe to a strict code of conduct and take their posts proudly and with reverence. Each pledges: "My dedication to this sacred duty is total and wholehearted... I will not falter...I will walk my tour in humble reverence... Surrounded by well meaning crowds by day, alone in the thoughtful peace of night, this soldier will in honored glory rest under my eternal vigilance."
"America, the Home of the Brave!" Let us never take for granted the privileges we enjoy as citizens, and may we hold in reverence the honor due our military, past and present, who salute Old Glory and hold fast to the ideals of defending freedom. May we think thoughts of gratitude on Armistice Day, Veterans' Day.
c 2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Nov. 9,2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.