It has now been 150 years since the first soldier was buried at Arlington. A fitting ceremony was recently held at the grave of that soldier... Private William Christman. Much can be read about him on the net, but it is interesting to note that he joined the war effort quite later in the war and actually only served less then two months. But he, like so many others caught a disease and it killed him. (During the war more died from disease than bullets. Christman's regiment alone loosing 79 in battle and 153 to disease.) A fellow played TAPS for him at his service and since then it too celebrates the same birthday.
The story that I discovered on the net a few days back about these and other celebrations at the cemetery indicates many have already happened but many are yet to come. One of these is on this Friday... 6 June... a date fixed in the minds of most military as D Day. (When 150,000 Allied troops and 30,000 vehicles made the dangerous crossing of the English Channel to be joined by 13,000 by parachute to do their business with the Axis powers.)
Of the many tours scheduled, the one on Friday is dedicated to the several hundred Medal of Honor men buried at Arlington. Hopefully in that tour there will be some note that it was not just the Americans that earned the MOH. One in five medals went to a non American born, though many probably became naturalized, before, during and after the war. And many of these men, naturalized or not, now rest at this cemetery.
On Flag Day and Memorial Day, and perhaps others, troops spend days and days walking just about every square inch of this massive cemetery and plant US flags in front of former service member's graves. Not just in front... exactly 1 foot forward and properly centered. The above images were taken at Arlington. The one of the right shows a fellow either exhausted or perhaps overwhelmed by emotion about his surroundings.
The men and women participating in the "Flag In" detail are incredible proud members of the 3rd US Army Infantry, also known as the "Old Guard." These soldiers have active duty assignments, and special duties at Arlington including the placing, for example, some 260,000 flags at grave markers most recently and another 7,300 at columbariums and another 13,500 at yet another cemetery near-bye.
These patrols have been going on 24 hours a day seven days a week, hurricanes snow, rain, 100 plus degree weather, terrorist attacks... no matter... the guard forges on. Each member works in a team that are on 24 hrs a day for several days then off for as many and then back to work again. And these men and woman need far more than physical stamina to do this highest of military ceremonies.
They have to have a pretty sharp mind as well. Knowledge on almost instant recall is needed about the whereabouts of some 300 graves. Same too for about 16 pages of typed Arlington history to be recalled verbatim for the curious tourist asking the same question heard a zillion times by the guard already. And so too, they must be ready to deal with anyone foolish enough to challenge them or try to do anything silly around the graves of these "Unknown Heroes."
While this image does not show it, a careful examination of the ground under this soldier's feet is in fact impacted by the very steps he takes. There are imprinted in the ground. But I guess that is what happens when you take the same 21 steps in each direction along the same route these soldiers and those before them took in their guard duties every single day and hour back to July of 1937.
President Obama and other dignitaries held their annual Memorial Day services at the tomb of the unknown soldiers last month The above image was taken from a similar service a few years back. The WW l tomb is shown at the right.
During the 1921 very formal ceremony unveiling the WW1 tomb, dignitaries from many parts of the world attended and presented wreaths and in many case their own country's highest awards, Britain being one of these. An Admiral attended and presented the Victoria Cross to the soldier, posthumously of course.
History documents that there were five American VC recipients plus the unknown soldier of WW l. But days ago I came across yet another, who fought for the Confederates under a fake name after already being awarded the VC from previous British service, but more on this in another blog.
History also records that Canada's Prime Minister Borden also attended and placed a wreath. He had no medal to present because, as a British colony of the day, the British VC represented all of Britain's colonies as well. He placed a wreath and was assisted by two of Canada's VC holders of the day. Private George Richardson, who at age 89 that year, was the oldest living VC recipient in the world, and a somewhat younger Sgt John Young. He was only 28 and had just earned his VC about 3 years earlier.
See you on Friday.