Larry Vaincourt’s classic poem was first published in his 1987 Remembrance Day newspaper column. There are several incorrect versions of this poem circulating the web; below you’ll find the original text. A special thank-you to his son Randy for his kind permission to re-post his father’s poem on our site.
Just A Common Soldier
(A Soldier Died Today)
He was getting old and paunchy and his hair was falling fast,
And he sat around the Legion, telling stories of the past.
Of a war that he had fought in and the deeds that he had done,
In his exploits with his buddies; they were heroes, every one.
And tho’ sometimes, to his neighbors, his tales became a joke,
All his Legion buddies listened, for they knew whereof he spoke.
But we’ll hear his tales no longer for old Bill has passed away,
And the world’s a little poorer, for a soldier died today.
He will not be mourned by many, just his children and his wife,
For he lived an ordinary and quite uneventful life.
Held a job and raised a family, quietly going his own way,
And the world won’t note his passing, though a soldier died today.
When politicians leave this earth, their bodies lie in state,
While thousands note their passing and proclaim that they were great.
Papers tell their whole life stories, from the time that they were young,
But the passing of a soldier goes unnoticed and unsung.
Is the greatest contribution to the welfare of our land
A guy who breaks his promises and cons his fellow man?
Or the ordinary fellow who, in times of war and strife,
Goes off to serve his Country and offers up his life?
A politician’s stipend and the style in which he lives
Are sometimes disproportionate to the service that he gives.
While the ordinary soldier, who offered up his all,
Is paid off with a medal and perhaps, a pension small.
It’s so easy to forget them for it was so long ago,
That the old Bills of our Country went to battle, but we know
It was not the politicians, with their compromise and ploys,
Who won for us the freedom that our Country now enjoys.
Should you find yourself in danger, with your enemies at hand,
Would you want a politician with his ever-shifting stand?
Or would you prefer a soldier, who has sworn to defend
His home, his kin and Country and would fight until the end?
He was just a common soldier and his ranks are growing thin,
But his presence should remind us we may need his like again.
For when countries are in conflict, then we find the soldier’s part
Is to clean up all the troubles that the politicians start.
If we cannot do him honor while he’s here to hear the praise,
Then at least let’s give him homage at the ending of his days.
Perhaps just a simple headline in a paper that would say,
Our Country is in mourning, for a soldier died today.
–A. Lawrence Vaincourt
On this National Medal of Honor Day, we would like to share the citations for each Unknown as issued by the War Department and later the Department of Defense.
World War I Unknown:
By virtue of an act of Congress approved 24 August 1921, the Medal of Honor, emblem of highest ideals and virtues is bestowed in the name of the Congress of the United States upon the unknown American, typifying the gallantry and intrepidity, at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty, of our beloved heroes who made the supreme sacrifice in the World War. They died in order that others might live (293.8, A.G:O.) (War Department General Orders, No. 59, 13 Dec. 1921, sec. I).
World War II Unknown:
AN ACT To authorize the President to award the Medal of Honor to the unknown American who lost his life while serving overseas in the armed forces of the United States during the Second World War. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the President is hereby authorized and directed to award, in the name of Congress, a Medal of Honor to the unknown American who lost his life while serving overseas in the armed forces of the United States during the Second World War, and who will lie buried in the Memorial Amphitheater of the National Cemetery at Arlington, Virginia, as authorized by the Act of June 24, 1946, Public Law 429, Seventy-ninth Congress. Approved March 9, 1948. Public Law 438, 80th Congress.
Korean War Unknown:
AN ACT To authorize the President to award the Medal of Honor to the unknown American who lost his life while serving overseas in the Armed Forces of the United States during the Korean conflict. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the President is hereby authorized and directed to award, in the name of the Congress, a Medal of Honor to the unknown American who lost his life while serving overseas in the Armed Forces of the United States during the Korean conflict, and who will lie buried in the Memorial Amphitheater of the National Cemetery at Arlington, Virginia, as authorized by the Act of August 3, 1956, Public Law 975, Eighty-fourth Congress. Approved August 31, 1957. Public Law 85_251.
AN ACT To authorize the President to award the Medal of Honor to the unknown American who lost his life while serving in the Armed Forces of the United States in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam era and who has been selected to be buried in the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the President is hereby authorized and directed to award, in the name of the Congress, a Medal of Honor to the unknown American who lost his life while serving in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam era as a member of the Armed Forces of the United States and who has been selected to lie buried in the Memorial Amphitheater of the National Cemetery at Arlington, Virginia, as authorized by the National Cemeteries Act of 1973.
To learn more about the Unknowns and the selection process, go here.
ARLINGTON, Va. — In honor of African-American History Month, Fred Moore, the first African-American Tomb Guard, recalled his journey from serving as a firing party member in Honor Guard Company in 1960, to making history a year later.
When Moore entered the Army in 1959, it was an unsettling feeling. It wasn’t because he was drafted. It wasn’t because he didn’t have a desire to serve his country. It wasn’t even the tension rising in Vietnam. Moore was an African-American Soldier entering the service during the Civil Rights Movement.
“I had three older brothers who had been in the service, and the advice they gave me before I left was to keep my mouth shut and don’t volunteer for anything,” Moore said jokingly.
But Moore, determined to find his own way, volunteered for service in the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), a decision which catapulted him into history.
Moore admits he wasn’t very familiar with The Old Guard, but a series of good scores on the Army entry test, or more so his stature, made him a good candidate.
“The officer at the reception station said you’re 6 foot 1, 185 pounds. You’re the right size for what they’re looking for,” Moore recalled.
Before he could give one more minute’s thought, Moore agreed to join The Old Guard.
“I was in Honor Guard Company assigned to the 3rd platoon,” said Moore. “We performed most of the burials at Arlington National Cemetery. We did parades and different ceremonies in Washington, Fredericksburg and all around Maryland. We were the number one firing team.”
Moore acknowledges he was a well-known Soldier in the regiment, not so much for the accolades his team was receiving around the region, but for the team’s distinct difference.
“I was obvious wherever I went,” said Moore. “I was the only black on a military firing party. The officers would come up and they would tell me, ‘We see you and you’re doing a good job.'”
This statistic would prove to be in Moore’s favor in the form of a visit from President Kennedy and a Ghanaian president.
“When President Kwame Nkrumah came from Africa and he and Kennedy were laying a wreath at the tomb, he asked Kennedy why he didn’t see anyone of color,” said Moore.
Shortly after, Moore was directed to report to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for training. Moore distinctively remembers the brotherhood he established right away with his counterparts. Despite being the only African-American there, no one ever treated him differently.
“They all treated me very, very fairly,” said Moore. “You can’t make it as an individual. It’s got to be teamwork. You always need somebody to help you put your uniform on and make sure it’s straight in the back, patting it down for lint and stuff like that.”
However, on a crisp autumn morning in March of 1961, as Moore stepped onto the marble floor to perform his first walk as an official Tomb Guard, his brothers-in-arms kept an important secret from him.
“I didn’t know at the time that I was breaking the color line. They didn’t tell me that until after, which I think was a good idea,” said Moore. “It was enough pressure just being a Tomb Guard. They thought it was best if I didn’t know until after it happened.”
Looking back, Moore admits it was never about making history as the first African-American Tomb Sentinel, but fulfilling the mission.
“It was a job that I was given, and I just considered it a great honor” said Moore. “I was always of the mindset that if I was given something to do, I was going to do it to the best of my ability.”
Today, Moore’s humility remains his central point, although for sentinels who have served after him, he is a celebrity in his own right.
“I was really surprised the first time I went back for the Tomb Guard reunion. I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. They knew me but I didn’t know them,” said Moore, referring to the attention he received from Soldiers currently serving at the Tomb.
Moore was shocked to learn what all the commotion was about.
“They said you’re an answer to a question on the test of who is the first African-American to serve at the Tomb,” said Moore.
Sentinels must take a detailed 100-question test, in addition to other tasks, in order to earn a Tomb Guard badge.
“I think it’s a little much,” laughed Moore. “When young guys talk to me about being the first, I tell them I just took the opportunity that was afforded to me, but you guys are taking it to another level so I am more proud of you all then I am of myself.”
Moore’s greatest wish, however, is that Soldiers today not dwell on his monumental accomplishment but find an inner drive in themselves.
“I hope it gives them the confidence that they can do anything they set their mind to do,” said Moore. “I’m not anything special. Certainly if I can do certain things, they are capable of doing even greater.”
At our 2014 reunion banquet we were honored to have Patrick K. Hallinan as guest speaker. Mr. Hallinan served as Superintendent, Arlington National Cemetery from October 2010 to July 2013. Here are his remarks delivered that night to our membership. It is a long read but full of great information about the direction of Arlington National Cemetery… past, present, and future!
It is an honor to be here this evening — to be surrounded by so many who are the unbroken chain of soldiers maintaining a constant vigil of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, our nation’s tribute to all missing and unknown service members who have made the ultimate sacrifice — they not only gave their lives, but also their identities to protect the freedoms of all Americans.
For 150 years, Arlington National Cemetery has been a special place of honor, remembrance, and tradition for people across this great nation – and around the world. Once created out of necessity during the American Civil War, Arlington is now a national shrine, honoring the service and sacrifice of the more than 400,000 active duty military members, veterans and their families who rest here, and paying tribute to the historic individuals and events that have shaped our nation.
And for the many who visit Arlington – those from our great nation as well as those from around the world, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Sentinels who guard it, are seen as THE symbol of honor and remembrance, the epitome of our military’s selfless service and sacrifice for the people of our country.
From the American Revolution to the conflicts of the 21st century, the history of the United States, and of its people, can be seen throughout Arlington National Cemetery. On a daily basis, our team bears witness to this history, and plays a role in creating history as well. ANC staff performs our noble mission of laying our veterans to rest with honor and dignity, and those who walk the mat to maintain the constant vigil at the Tomb of the Unknown of the Unknown Soldier — not only share a sacred trust, we also share in the continuing legacy of Arlington as a living memorial to the heroes of the past and the heroes yet to come.
As we all know so well, no plot on ANC’s sacred ground can be purchased, it must be earned through honorable service to our nation. To wear the Tomb Guard badge is something that can only be earned through dedication, perseverance, diligence and nothing less than perfection.
Why is Arlington significant
Arlington National Cemetery is the nation’s premiere military cemetery. It is the place where presidents and military leaders are buried among those they led, as well as the symbol of reconciliation between the North and South after the Civil War, but most importantly, it is a place of military tradition that honors the sacrifice of those who have served.
There were three major turning points in the 19th century that set Arlington on its path to become our national shrine:
- First, by the end of the Civil War, there were more than 15,500 soldiers buried at Arlington, more than any of the other, 33 national cemeteries.
- Second, in 1868, General John Logan, the Commander-In-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, designated May 30th as Decoration Day. Arlington National Cemetery became the location of the first national observance. In the early 1870s, Arlington’s Decoration Day Observance drew crowds of 25,000 a year – more than the population of Washington, DC at the time.
- Third, in the 1870s through the 1890s, many of the Union generals from the Civil War wanted to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, along with the troops that they lead.
In the 1900s, Arlington became the symbol of reconciliation. In 1900, Congress authorized a Confederate section be established at Arlington National Cemetery. Confederate veterans were moved there from around Arlington National Cemetery, the Soldier’s Home cemetery, and Alexandria Cemetery. Today, there are 482 Confederate veterans buried at Arlington.
In 1906, Congress authorized the construction of a Confederate Memorial. It was designed by the famed sculptor and Confederate veteran Moses Ezekiel. The memorial was dedicated in June 1914. Ezekiel is buried there today.
The Memorial Bridge was built between 1922 and 1932 as a symbol to link the North and South. Arlington House is directly aligned with Memorial Bridge and the Lincoln Memorial. The Memorial Bridge ties Arlington National Cemetery to the District of Columbia and makes visiting the cemetery more accessible.
In 1955, the Arlington House was officially designated as the Robert E. Lee Memorial.
The first repatriations of U.S. service members from overseas were buried at Arlington National Cemetery, including the sailors who perished on the USS Maine from the Spanish-American War.
The Old Amphitheater was not able to accommodate the large crowds that came each year for Memorial Day, so Congress authorized the construction of the Memorial Amphitheater. Construction began in 1915 and it was dedicated in 1920.
This is the moment when you all become a part of Arlington’s rich history. On March 4, 1921, Congress approved the burial of an unidentified American soldier from World War I in the plaza of the new Memorial Amphitheater. The World War One Unknown was buried on Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1921. The vigil of guarding the Tomb began in 1926. The white marble sarcophagus was placed above the grave of the Unknown Soldier of World War One in 1931. It is inscribed: “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”
President William Howard Taft was the first president buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
The death and burial of President John F. Kennedy forever changed Arlington National Cemetery. Arlington was important to the military community, but the burial of President Kennedy propelled the cemetery onto the international stage. Television allowed the world to witness the rich military tradition of Arlington National Cemetery.
Seven million people visited the cemetery in the year after President Kennedy’s burial. Arlington’s burial requests grew exponentially each year after the president’s death and the cemetery was predicted to run out of burial space in the 1980s if it did not enact eligibility restrictions and expand the footprint of the cemetery. The first eligibility restrictions for burial at Arlington National Cemetery were established in 1967.
This year marks our 150th year as a national cemetery. This past summer, Arlington National Cemetery hosted five weeks of events from May through June that honored Arlington’s traditions, remembered the sacrifice of those who are buried here and explored our rich history. We started with a wreath laying ceremony on May 13 at the gravesite of Army Pvt. William Christman, who was the first military person buried at Arlington, and had ten days of informative lectures and tours. Our capstone event was a first-ever evening show in the Memorial Amphitheater that paid tribute to Arlington’s past, present, and future. We concluded our commemoration with a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on June 16, the day after Arlington officially became a national cemetery.
Enhancements to the Memorial Amphitheater
For the first time in four decades, the Memorial Amphitheater Display Room has been updated. The new exhibits provide the 3.5 million plus visitors who visit the Tomb each year the historical context that had been missing. They tell the story of Arlington National Cemetery, the Memorial Amphitheater, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
In addition, they help our visitors understand the history of the Tomb Guards, who maintain their constant vigil over our Unknown, and tells a brief story of the history and role of The Old Guard.
Going forward, we will renovate the top floor and lower level, as well. This will give us additional space for exhibits and opportunities for visitors to explore the rich history of the Memorial Amphitheater.
We are in the process of replacing the flagstone around the Memorial Amphitheater and other parts of the cemetery. We expect to have this project complete in 2015. We’ve partnered with the National Park Service Historic Preservation Training Center to clean the Memorial Amphitheater. We have finished cleaning the marble benches inside the Amphitheater and is currently testing products for the exterior.
- Tomb Guard Passes
- Flexible parking for those serving now
- PT “Old Guard” morning
- Ceremonial cannon battery practice
- ANC Staff appreciate and respect
We’ve recently put in all new appliances in the Guard Quarters and will renovate the Briefing Room early next year. The renovation will include new historical exhibits and overhead lighting.
Looking at the future
Families come from all over the country to bury their loved ones at Arlington National Cemetery and you may wonder how long it will it will remain an active cemetery. I’m pleased to tell you that Arlington will be available for decades to come. The Army remains committed to maintaining Arlington as an active cemetery for as long as possible to continue to honor and serve our Nation’s military heroes.
In support of that commitment, last year we completed the construction of Columbarium Court 9. It is the largest Columbarium Court at Arlington – it is nearly the length of two football fields and added 20,296 burial niches for cremated remains. Columbarium Court 9 extended the cemetery’s projected capability to accept cremated remains from 2016 until approximately 2024.
Construction has started on the Millennium Project, which is the expansion in the northern part of the cemetery. When construction is complete, it will add more than 27,000 new burial spaces for both casketed and cremated remains (est 2035).
Our last expansion project is on the southern side of the cemetery, into the land formerly occupied by the Navy Annex. We are in the earliest stages of project planning and will create a project concept that is both an appropriate expansion to the cemetery and a place of honor for our veterans and their families. Although it is too early to tell what the final development will yield for the southern expansion site, we project that with the Millennium and the southern expansion, the cemetery will have first interment space through the mid-2050s.
100th Anniversary of World War One
As part of the centennial observance of the First World War, the United Kingdom is honoring all of its Victoria Cross recipients. The Victoria Cross is equal to the U.S. Medal of Honor and was awarded to only five Americans during World War One, including the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. On November 21, 1921, the British government presented our World War One Unknown with its highest honor, the Victoria Cross. On November 6th, representatives of the United Kingdom will conduct a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, as well as unveil a bronze plaque dedicated to all five of our American Victoria Cross recipients. This plaque will remain on display in the Amphitheater Display Room through the World War One centennial and the 100th anniversary of Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in 2021.
Approaching the Tomb Centennial
The 100th anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is quickly approaching. I’ve met with the centennial planning committee and look forward to marking this important milestone in Arlington’s history. We are submitting a request to the U.S. Postal Service and members of the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee to create a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier commemoration stamp for the 100th anniversary. The process takes a number of years, but we think the Tomb is a strong candidate because it is THE symbol of honor and remembrance, the epitome of our military’s selfless service and sacrifice for the people of our great country.
“The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and every patriots grave, to every living heart and hearthstone” (AL – Prez – USA)
I thank each of you for all that you have done and continue to do to honor the service and sacrifice of our military members – past and present. We must never lose sight of the sacred trust we have held and continue to hold. Arlington – and its legacy – is far bigger than any of us – we are the temporary stewards – part of a small, yet powerful team of dedicated men and women who’s been privileged to serve at such a remarkable place.
There were many highlights from this past reunion. Perhaps the most unique was the performance of the musical piece, Arlington Sons, by David and Richard Pittsinger. David is a renowned Broadway star who commissioned the piece in 2011 to specifically perform with his son Richard, a soloist and graduate of New York’s Saint Thomas Choir School. The piece tells a very unique story, of a father bringing his son to Arlington Cemetery for the first time to observe the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns. It “illuminates a universal experience—the changing of the guard between generations—in a uniquely American context. It is believed to be the first-ever musical composition written for a real-life father and son.”
David’s motivation to commission a piece came from a desire to pay tribute to his late father, Richard M. Pittsinger who was a Tomb Guard in the 1950s. Composer Scott Eyerly, wrote the piece with this connection in mind. Observing the live performance, many Tomb Guards noted that Arlington Sons really told a multi generational story with David’s father Richard, the Tomb Guard, having an unseen but tangible presence.
The Society of the Honor Guard has a phrase, “soldiers never die until they are forgotten, Tomb Guards never forget”. Arlington Sons is the living embodiment of that idea and we salute the Pittsinger family for their moving tribute and thank them for sharing it with our members at our 2014 banquet! It was a once a lifetime performance and our organization thanks David and Richard for their commitment to paying tribute to the Unknowns and his father.
Last Saturday night at our 2014 banquet, four SHGTUS founding members received The Order of Saint Maurice on behalf of the National Infantry Association. The Order of Saint Maurice has five levels. A nominee for the Order of Saint Maurice must have served the Infantry community with distinction; must have demonstrated a significant contribution in support of the Infantry; and must represent the highest standards of integrity, moral character, professional competence, and dedication to duty. The same medallion is used for each level, with a attachment that identifies the level.
COL (Ret.) Lloyd Neale Cosby received the Primicerius (Highest Level) award. This is “for those who have made a significant and lasting contribution to the entire Infantry.” Richard A. Azzaro and James Cardamon received the Legionnaire level of the order. Legionnaire level is for “outstanding or conspicuous contribution to the Infantry”. Meredith Smith received the Civis level award, which is for “civilian personnel who have supported the U.S. Infantry.
Saint Maurice was Primicerius of the Theban Legion. In 287 AD it marched in service of the Roman Empire fighting against the revolt in the Berguadae Gauls. His men were composed entirely of Christians recruited from upper Egypt, near the Valley of the Kings. The Legion marched to the Mediterranean Sea, was transported across, and traveled across Italy to an area in Switzerland. Serving under Augustus Maximian Hercules, Maurice was ordered to have his legionnaires offer pagan sacrifices before battle near the Rhone at Martigny. The Theban Legion refused to participate, and also refused to kill innocent civilians in the conduct of their duty, and withdrew to the town of Agaunum. Enraged, Maximian ordered every tenth man killed, yet they still refused. A second time the General ordered Maurice’s men to participate and again they refused. Maurice declared his earnest desire to obey every order lawful in the eyes of God. “We have seen our comrades killed,” came the reply. “Rather than sorrow, we rejoice at the honor done to them.” At this Maximian ordered the butchery of the Thebans and the martyrdom of Saint Maurice. September 22 is the traditional feast day.
On behalf of all SHGTUS members we congratulate each of these Founders for their award and thank them for their contributions to the infantry!
Recently I had the pleasure of obtaining an advanced copy of Robert Poole’s upcoming book Section 60 and submitted the following review to the publisher. While I am certainly no authority, I hope that my review will at least pique an interest and entice you to get a copy for yourself. The book officially releases on October 21 2014.
Robert M. Poole. Section 60: Arlington National Cemetery, Where War Comes Home. New York: Bloomsbury, 2014. 256pp. Cloth, $27.
Robert Poole, author of the critically acclaimed On Hallowed Ground, shifts his focus toward a single section of Arlington National Cemetery. Section 60 tells the stories of those that have lost their lives as a result of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of those who rest there lost their lives well before their time and while serving their country – the ultimate sacrifice.
Poole paints an emotionally vivid picture of Section 60 which he argues serves as the ad hoc memorial to those who perished as a result of these conflicts. Much like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the graves in Section 60 contain tributes and mementos from loved ones, admirers, and comrades in arms – many of whom may owe that deceased servicemember their lives.
Poole’s knack for the human side of a story abounds within the pages of Section 60. Through interviews with friends and family of the deceased, Poole is able to draw the reader into the narratives. Not only are these the stories of brave men and women who paid the ultimate price, but they are also the struggles and hardships of those that they left behind. Especially vivid are the stories of a nineteen year old recipient of the Medal of Honor, a father fighting for justice for his son’s death, an organ recipient given another chance at life thanks to a fallen soldier, and a man haunted by the demons of his own personal war. The death of a loved one is never easy and those buried in Section 60 are there for various reasons, but even in death, these heroes still have connections to the living. Poole masterfully ties those lost to their loved one’s struggles, whether it be for justice, life lessons, or simple admiration.
Not all those interred in Section 60 are from the current wars. There are those from wars past whose whereabouts had long been lost to time, discovered long after their disappearances. Poole discusses two such cases from World War II and Vietnam — making Section 60 a true memorial across generations.
Poole’s access to Section 60 is not limited to friends and family of the fallen. He also focuses on the men and women of the military in the Washington, DC area tasked with rendering honors to those buried in Arlington. Poole writes of the rigorous training involved with carrying a casket, folding a flag, and even firing the standard 21-gun salute. Each task as meticulous as it is expected to be flawless. He also follows the soldiers of the Old Guard’s storied caisson platoon who transport the remains along the solemn drives of Arlington to their final resting places.
Poole’s book opens with the quote, “People never die until they are forgotten,” and through Section 60 he has solidified the memory of the fallen to many more generations of Americans.
by Kevin Welker
Preservation Project Director,
Society of the Honor Guard, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Recently, we announced the recipients of the 2014 scholarships as selected by our scholarship committee. This year’s Freedom Scholarship recipient is James Wilson, brother of Case Wilson (Tomb Guard Identification Badge #547). James is currently enrolled at Sewanee: The University of the South and is majoring in environmental studies with an emphasis on sustainability with a minor in international studies. While most of the submissions were outstanding, his essay really stood out. Here is it in its entirety.
“HERE RESTS IN HONORED GLORY AN AMERICAN SOLDIER KNOWN BUT TO GOD.” Those words inscribed on one of America’s most sacred monuments speak to not only individuals, but to a nation. When my brother first took me to see the Tomb, I felt an overwhelming sense of awe. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is not merely a memorial it is the promise of a nation and her soldiers to serve and defend. I have always respected my brother, but never more so than when I saw him as a Tomb Guard. I believe that my brother became a Tomb Guard to serve a higher calling: to honor the men who had laid down their lives for their country and for their fellow soldiers without any desire for recognition.
It’s been said that “perfect valor is to behave, without witnesses, as one would act were all the world watching.” The men laid to rest in that tomb displayed perfect valor. The actions of those brave men in life may not have been witnessed by the world, but they will forever be remembered by the world. To me the Tomb represents a living history, a story of valor spanning generations. I believe that we live in the greatest country in the world, in large part due to the sacrifice of men like the ones buried in the Tomb. We live in a world where history is fast forgotten. To me the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is our country’s way of saying we will never forget the sacrifices made to make and maintain this nation.
When the Twin Towers fell, it felt as though the world stood still. One thing remained constant: the silent vigil of the Tomb Guards. The Guard still changed and the Tomb remained defended. When Hurricane Sandy hovered above Arlington National Cemetery, the sentinels continued their duties. For me, the Tomb is not simply a monument or a pretty piece of marble; it is America’s dedication past present and future. It is my firm belief that the Tomb and what it stands for will reside in the hearts of this great nation always.
In closing I believe the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier represents the deference of a nation. It is with a humble heart that we who are not soldiers witness the eternal vigil. It is my sincere hope that the Tomb remains a symbol of honor and true valor in a new and ever changing world. We cannot forget those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for this country. It is our duty as a nation to support the ones who defend us and to continue supporting our soldiers. As a brother of a Tomb Guard, and as a citizen, I want to thank you all for the dedication and for reminding us that freedom isn’t easy. You help us to remember that we would not be here without soldiers like the men who are buried in that tomb known only to God.
One of the most frequent questions we receive from our “ask your own question” section here at tombguard.org is about September 11th, 2001. Here is my perspective.
On September 11, 2001 I was assigned to the Tomb. I had recently earned my Tomb Guard Identification Badge in the previous month after nearly nine months of training. However, my relief was not working that day. I was waking up to the news of the World Trade Center attacks on nearby Fort Myer adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery. Immediately following the attack on the Pentagon, the approximate 30 soldiers assigned to guard the Tomb were summoned to the Arlington Cemetery.
In the aftermath of that day, the cemetery was closed around 1030hrs. Ceremonial guard duty was ceased at that time and two guards were posted in BDUs (battle dress uniform). Myself and another soldier were the first two soldiers assigned to guard the Tomb that day as the first ‘non ceremonial’ guards. A security perimeter was set up around the Tomb as well.
The day was hectic. In the ensuing days, some Tomb Guards were dispatched to the Pentagon to assist with locating survivors or to serve as body bearers. The cemetery opened some days later with the return of ceremonial guard duty. However, the Tomb was continuously guarded during this time.
Later in the day, some of us went down to Section 68 for a better view. Debris from the blast was in the area supposedly, and law enforcement personnel shooed us away. It was an interesting day and a unique point of view to have. I can still see the columns of smoke rising above the trees from where the plane hit the Pentagon.
We have heard the old adage, “We take care of our own.” While many times this may seem like lip-service or an empty promise, members of the Tomb Guard family take it to heart.
A few months back I followed a story as it developed on Facebook concerning eBay, a Tomb Guard Identification Badge (TGIB), and four former Tomb Guards. Like many stories that involve the tenacity and determination of Tomb Guards, this story has a happy ending.
As it turns out, there was a TGIB listed from a seller on eBay. Anyone who has searched the multitude of items listed on that site will undoubtedly come across a plethora of TGIBs listed for sale. Somehow this particular badge stood out from the others. This one came with a name. Ryan Ball, himself a collector of Tomb of the Unknown Soldier memorabilia, came across the listing. According to his Facebook post Ryan let the members know that there was a badge with a name on eBay for sale.
That seemed to set the wheels in motion. Lonny LeGrand, Jr., himself an avid collecter of all things Tomb-related saw it as an opportunity to get this badge back into the hands of its rightful owner. Once he found the listing on eBay, Lonny immediately contacted the seller to find out more information, introduce himself, and see what kind of deal could be struck.
As it turns out, the seller of this badge comes from a family with a long lineage of military service. Although he did not serve, he has the highest esteem and respect for those who serve or had served in the military. Michael O’Reagan is the owner of Militarybizniz on eBay and deals in militaria. While he makes every effort to contact those whose names may be engraved on various medals, not all are successful. Through his conversation with Michael, Lonny said that he “has always made an attempt to reach out to the family or owner of a medal or such that he has found, [and] he believes from the bottom of his heart that something as special as this or other military awards truly belong in the hands of the owner or family.” When Michael received this TGIB, he saw the name on the back as L.C. Lerman. All attempts to find the owner had failed.
While L.C. Lerman may not have existed, enter Loren Ackerman — a former Tomb Guard and the proud recipient of Badge #343 who served in the late 80’s. For some reason or another Loren had lost possession of his badge. How it ended up on eBay still remains a mystery, but Lonny knew he had to get it back. “I immediately offered to give up one of my badges in return to put on eBay for him to sell.” Michael simply would not hear of it. He removed the badge from his auction and arranged to have the badge sent to Loren’s ex-wife Ellen. Another former Tomb Guard, Brian Compton, played an integral role in getting in contact with Ellen, who was elated that she was able to return the badge to Loren.
When I saw the picture posted on Facebook of Loren holding his badge, I was overcome with emotion. What a testament to our “Band of Brothers” that returning Loren’s badge was priority. Lonny had never met Loren, or even knew who he was. He only knew that he was a fellow Tomb Guard and he had to make sure the badge was safely back with Loren…where it belonged. “A Tomb Guard should never be separated from his badge,” Lonny said, “especially one that he wore on the mat.”
Amen to that…
By Kevin Welker