Today marks the 15th anniversary of the disinterment of the Vietnam Unknown. It seems hard to believe that the middle crypt has been empty for that long. It now serves as a memorial to those that are still missing from the Vietnam Conflict, but in spirit, it will never be empty.
To me, there will always be four Unknowns. I can recall my mixed feelings when it was determined that the remains would be removed from the crypt for testing. My initial reaction was one of anger; there wasn’t any reason to disturb this hallowed ground, let alone take away one of our charges. It was only after a very solemn ceremony that I realized it wasn’t about my personal feelings, but about a family that now had closure. I had always remembered the saying “never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.” I never fully contemplated the family’s sense of loss – not knowing, and always wondering".
When I think back to this time, I can recall the events before the ceremony. I remember me and Bill Hanna placing the camouflage net over the top of the white privacy fence that was built around the crypts. I also remember walking on the lower landing before and after the work was completed. Walking down the steps to the mat below and then back up after my walks, hoping that I wouldn’t scrape my toe block on the steps! I can also recall watching the work to take the casket out during the night. How meticulous the work was to ensure that nothing was damaged and that the crypt remained intact, and then seeing the end result in the morning: a lone, flag-draped casket setting on the now empty crypt as if there had been no work done at all.
On May 14th the ceremony was held that removed the casket from the Arlington National Cemetery. Secretary of Defense William Cohen spoke of the reluctance to disturb the hallowed ground, but also reminded the audience of the closure that the family would feel. I can remember standing on the South end of the plaza, just outside the chains with my fellow Sentinels; my heart in my throat the entire time. It was like saying goodbye to an old friend. It was at this time that my hardened views softened. I felt so selfish to think that this man who was killed in combat belonged to me. I now understood the loss that was felt by the family. I still get emotional when I talk to others about the events of that day.
For as long as I live, I will never forget May 14, 1998.
by Kevin Welker