From the President

4 months ago

I remember five years ago after the reunion waking up at the Cosby River house where we had been staying and looking out over foggy Belmont Bay thinking about how my term as President was not clearly defined and the Society’s future, much like the misty bay, was shrouded and hidden from view. I had always enjoyed waking up in the house that Neale built for his family, and after his passing it was a place where I could talk to him about the work we were doing for the Centennial. I enjoy my cup of coffee to start the day sharing that special time with wildlife that surrounds the house. It helped focus me to the mission.

The morning after Reunion 2021 I woke up and the bay was clear and bright. I could easily see the far side and marveled at the colors as I thought about the journey that had been undertaken. Thank you to everyone who made my term as President fun, sometimes frustrating, and very fulfilling.

State of the Society

For those of you who were unable to attend the Reunion this year I wanted to pass along some of the information I presented during the Banquet on the State of the Society.

Over the past five years we’ve endured much as a Society and as a Nation. COVID turned out the be the mother of all Murphy’s and very adapt in throwing monkey wrenches into everything. Even with that, we were able to stay focused, adapt to the virtual reality, support the platoon, and stay on mission. Our successes as a Society rest solely with those who set aside their personal time to volunteer. We simply cannot accomplish our mission committed to preserving the unique history of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, honoring and remembering the service and sacrifice of the Unknown servicemen buried on the east plaza of the Memorial Amphitheater as well as the empty crypt dedicated to our nations missing, while protecting and enhancing the welfare of Tomb Guards past and present. Without volunteers to speak to community members, manage different committees, run the store, maintain the website, develop and run projects, engage with other veterans’ organizations, as well as generate new ideas we would not be where we are today.

The Society we grew in membership from just under 393 members at the beginning of 2018 to close to 600 today. That is in thanks to our Vice President and Membership Committee Chair Scott Sengenberger (200-02), who is currently deployed in harm’s way, but also thanks to you for reaching out to your relief mates and friends. His side kick is our hard-working Administrative Secretary Lynn Giddings, and I owe her a huge debt of gratitude for keeping me on the right path and dealing with many of the day-to-day requests that come in.

Our Treasurer, Larry Seaton (1970-71), has kept our noses above the waterline even with the heavy expense of a new website, two reunions including new digs for this reunion, and an international Centennial to plan for.

Our Education Team had to adapt from in-person presentations to virtual presentations. They saw in increase from 38 request in 2017, to over 250 this year alone.

Centennial of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The Centennial Committee carried a heavy load over the last five years which started with meetings with Arlington National Cemetery providing them our vision as it was outlined by Congress. We knew that this story was not just about the World War I Unknown Soldier, but an opportunity to reunite American with the Unknown Soldiers that we have watched over. I have heard historians say that the Tomb does not belong to Tomb Guards, and they are correct. It does not. It does not belong to Arlington National Cemetery or any agency in the government. It belongs to the people. We, the Guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, have the burden of grateful nation resting upon our shoulders to fulfill our given mission of maintaining the highest standards and traditions of the Army and this Nation, while keeping a constant vigil at the Tomb, preventing desecration or disrespect directed to those who have given their lives and identity so other may live free. This duty we have faithfully maintained since March 1926.

As we spoke with Arlington National Cemetery, we stressed that this centennial commemoration should not be Washington centric, however be inclusive of all that have a connection with the Tomb. We offered many proposals that would cover the different aspects that Congress directed to honor this nations commitment to never forget, highlight our sister services role in each of the Unknown Soldiers return to the US, pay tribute to those that remained on the home front, educate the public about service and sacrifice, and recognize our allies and their contributions.

Arlington National Cemetery accepted some of the proposals and working with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Foundation did an outstanding job putting the public flower ceremony together on November 9-10; developing on-line educational modules for teachers and the pubic; researching an up-coming new book about the history of the Tomb; and working with Military District of Washington on the procession prior to the President laying a wreath on November 11th.

There were many proposals that we presented that fell outside the confines of ANC. Nobody does work like Tomb Guards, so the Society took the lead on planning and executing many events both in the United States, at sea, and in France.

We asked a former Vietnam Marine to dive into the history behind the Marines who were detailed to guard the Unknown Soldiers as the Navy carried them home. As a result, Mr. Neubeiser wrote three detailed articles covering 1921, 1958, and 1984 and they have received much acclaim. Young sailors and Marines who are still with us, were brought together to tell their story and link back up with each other.

We worked with the Naval History and Heritage Command and asked them to develop a Naval Seminar to highlight the actions of the Navy, Marines, and the Coast Guard as they escorted home each of the Unknown Soldiers. The Navy was receptive and instrumental in the at-sea wreath laying ceremony on the spot where the World War II Unknown Soldier was selected, and the candidate not selected was buried at sea this past May aboard the USS Truxton, continuing our mission to engage with our sister services to recognize their contribution to the history of the Unknown Soldiers.

Part of our work with the Navy led to the Society developing a special historic plaque that we donated to the Navy and is on public display at the spot where the Unknown Soldier arrived from France in 1921. That dedication was on November 9th, 100 years to the hour that the Unknown Soldier came home.

We developed a partnership with the Independence Seaport Museum where the USS Olympia resides to highlight this ship and her history. This included our help as they dedicated a special bronze plaque on the site where the Unknown Soldier rested during his difficult journey home, as well as raising a flag aboard ship making the date and time when that mission started as we followed in his footsteps to France and back. The Tomb Guard platoon has an open invitation to come aboard for a staff ride at any time to learn about the ship and her history as it relates to the Unknown Soldier, and I hope they take advantage of that invitation and walk the deck where our history connects.

We encouraged communities to find ways to honor service and sacrifice by planning Never Forget Gardens, both in the US and in France. This partnership with the American Rose Society led to connections with the 1921 rose grower who provided flowers for Sergeant Younger to use, as well as the development of the new “Never Forget” rose. Sadly, Dr. Bob Martin, who was the President of ARS and who personally spearheaded the research into the rose used by Younger, passed away shortly after the Reunion.

Mark Miller (1990-91) dove into the aviation world and came back with more information on the aircraft and crews that were involved with transporting the Unknown Candidates and Unknown Soldiers. He found the crew that flew the Vietnam Unknown Soldier from Travis AFB to Andrews AFB in 1984 and they were present for his lecture during Centennial Week.

Aircrew that delivered the Vietnam Unknown Soldier to DC

We reached out and connected with the Chief Plenty Coups Honor Guard during the “Day of Honor” at the home of Chief Plenty Coups. This led to our assisting them to be present in Arlington National Cemetery 100-years after their ancestor honored the Unknown Soldiers in 1921 with his war bonnet and coups stick. This relationship will continue, and you are all invited to come to the “Day of Honor” the first week of September 2022.

We started the National Salute project, which was adopted and modified by the World War I Centennial Commission into a popular phone app, as well as facilitated a unanimous resolution in the US Senate commemorating the Centennial and assisted many with the getting their Governors to issue proclamations supporting the Centennial.

We connected with the American Legion Paris Post 1 and the American Battle Monuments Commission, working side-by-side to develop official ceremonies in France and the primary cemeteries associated with the World War I Unknown Soldier.

The cities of Châlons-en-Champagne and Le Havre understood the vision and took simple wreath ceremonies and created historical events allowing their people to once again to express love and respect, as we followed the footsteps of the World War I Unknown Soldier 100 years later. These ceremonies were overwhelming, as was the special plaque that bears our logo on the pier where the Unknown Soldier left France to return to America.

The Mayor of Châlons-en-Champagne was even able to persuade the French National Postal System to create a special stamp to honor the Centennial of the US Unknown Soldier, something that we were unfortunately unable to persuade our on postal service into doing.

There is more to our efforts to support the national commemoration, and I guess the short answer would have been… that we meet the desire of Congress to find ways to unite this country around love of country, while commemorating the Centennial. As a result of we helped to inspire a special musical score “Journey Home” that was played in France as well as at the Military Women’s Memorial by Dr. Sara Corry; an award-winning children’s book “Twenty-One Steps” by author Jeff Gottesfeld and artist Matt Tavares; and a special original lithograph by Michael Solovey titled “A Century of Silence and Respect”.

During this process we lost one of the Society Founders, Neale Cosby, who was a mentor and the driving force behind the Centennial. If it was not for his vision, sweat, and in many cases tears we would not have had a hand in writing NDAA 2017 and seeing Congress direct the commemoration. Neale’s only hope was that, perhaps, we could get a book written. I think that he would be very pleased to see what the Society accomplished…and it was more than a book.

The new Board of Directors and all our volunteers will continue to drive the Society as we continue our mission to educate American about the Unknown Soldiers and ensure that we support Tomb Guards and their families both past and present.

Thank you for allowing me to sit in the hot seat, it is an experience I will treasure.

Gavin

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