Friday, August 10, 2007

Honor, Dedication and Sacrifice

Last weekend I visited Arlington National Cemetery and witnessed the awesome and inspiring Tomb of the Unknowns and the Changing of the Guard.

Crossing the open green fields dotted with white tombstones of the fallen, seemingly perfectly aligned from every vantage point, I came to the area where the Tomb of the Unknowns and the Sentinel protecting the site is located.

The Sentinel, part of the specially-trained and extremely disciplined members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (Old Guard), stand with rifle in hand by the Tomb of the Unknowns 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, rain or shine, summer or winter (unless the weather is very hostile at which point they can take shelter -but that's unlikely).

The Sentinel stands guard in full honor uniform, pacing 21 steps in front of the large sarcophagus and three grave sites containing the remains of unidentified U.S. military personnel from previous wars. Pause for 21 seconds, then turn and pace 21 steps again, continuing the precise movements until relieved - that is, the Changing of the Guard.

The relief commander or assistant relief commander initiates the changing of the guard according to Army regulations. As the ceremony begins, there is a tangible feeling of honor and dedication emanating from the guards. The stillness in the air, the solemnity of the ceremony steeped in symbolism, the precision and beauty of the maneuvers, and the dedication to the unknown soldiers are inspiring.

As we sleep and dream the night away, there is a Sentinal at Arlington National Cemetery manning his post by the Tomb of the Unknowns, fulfilling his honorable duty for those who made the ultimate sacrifice, nameless.

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