A Moment of Personal Reflection – May 14, 1998

May 14, 2013 | Tomb Guards Never Forget

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.

Vietnam Dis1

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.

Vietnam Dis2

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

  1. brian c. conelly May 28, 2013

    dear Kevin, thank you so much for your service to our fallen, but not forgotten at Arlington after reading your heart felt letter something came into my mind . I thought that here’s a young man, who may or may not have been in actual combat, but whose dedication is just above and beyond . he does every day what most men or women cannot qualify for. and adheres to a code of honor that is unrivaled. You sir are a patriot and we say thank you for your service. if you will forgive a old vet I would like to say that because of your dedication, you are in fact. part of our band of brothers and would be welcomed in any of our homes as an equal. in closing, I would like to quote general GEORGE S. PATTON JR. who wrote” freedom has a taste, those who have fought for it, the taste is so sweet, the protected will never know “

  2. william l stokes May 26, 2014

    in october 2012 i returned to the tomb where in june of 1951 a became a member of the tomb guard.it was 60 sixty years since i walked my post at the tomb. as i stood and reflected on my time as a sentinel i was moved deeply by the the changing of the guard and the privilege of visiting with these young men in the guard quarters.it was a great honor to be a member of this elite group and i still remain true to the principals and creed of the tomb guard today.god bless these young men for their devotion to this great country.i salute all veterans today and pray for those who stand in harms way. smsgt william l stokes,usaf retired