Thursday, May 20, 2010

Arlington National Cemetery: Memorials

Rosie has a research project this month on "Historical Locations." There are so many in DC, she had her pick from a long list. After a short discussion on all the options, she changed her pick from the Lincoln Memorial to the much richer mine of the Arlington National Cemetery. Of course, now she needs to narrow down her options to which part of that vast area (624 acres!!) she'll do her project on. It's a mixed-media project, with a model-building part as well as a written part, and of course an oral presentation.

We took a family trip over to Arlington last Saturday with the ultimate goal of giving Rosie fodder for her project, but a smaller goal of visiting her great-grandfather's grave out in Section 17. We all got up early that morning, had a light breakfast and headed out. I didn't realize just how lightly Dash ate (he only had a 1/2 cup of milk and 3 apple wedges) until he started saying he was tired during our walk from the car to the visitors' center! We had another 3 miles of walking to do and used this opportunity to teach a lesson about the consequences of not finishing your meals.

On our walk, we passed the Tomb of the Unknowns, the Nurses Memorial, the USS Maine Memorial, the Space Shuttle Challenger and Columbia memorials (Rosie is pictured at the Columbia Shuttle Memorial, expressly because her teacher is related to the late Dr. Laurel Clark, one of Columbia's astronauts who perished in the 2003 disaster), and we ended our trek with a gambol through the grounds and gardens at the Custis-Lee Mansion/Arlington House. We didn't visit the burial site of Dash's namesake, Samuel Dashiell Hammett; maybe another time, as it was well off our path.

After all these experiences, I'm pretty sure she's planning to work on the Tomb of the Unknowns. We had the luck to arrive right at 9 a.m., when the changing of the guard was happening. I'll admit I knew next to nothing about the honor guard for the Unknowns, but we noticed the air of quiet reverence as we approached, so watched in kind. It was a mysterious bit of ceremony and I left somewhat confused as we moved on. When I next had a chance, I checked the good ol' Internet for details and am now astonished at the Honor Guard's rigors. Here are some facts that I was completely in the dark about (from :

  • The tomb is guarded 24 hours a day, year-round and has been, every minute since 1937.
  • Guard selectees must be between 5'11" and 6'4" in height and have a 30-inch waist.
  • 80% of the soldier-applicants for this duty are not accepted.
  • Guards must spend 8 hours of every day preparing their uniform, which is 100% wool.
  • Once selected, Tomb Guards must serve at least 1 year at the Tomb
  • At the Tomb, the Sentinel walks 21 steps, stops, faces the Tomb for 21 seconds, turns, changes his/her weapon to the outside shoulder, walks 21 steps back, faces the Tomb for 21 seconds, and repeats until his/her relief comes, every 30 minutes (or hr, or 2 hrs, depending).
  • I read that Guards make a commitment to not drink alcohol ever again in their lifetime, but was very relieved for them when I learned that this was a myth.
  • Only three Sentinels have ever been female.
  • Only 578 Tomb Guard badges have ever been awarded.
Finally, the Sentinel's Creed:

The Sentinel's Creed

My dedication to this sacred duty
is total and whole-hearted.
In the responsibility bestowed on me
never will I falter.
And with dignity and perseverance
my standard will remain perfection.
Through the years of diligence and praise
and the discomfort of the elements,
I will walk my tour in humble reverence
to the best of my ability.
It is he who commands the respect I protect,
his bravery that made us so proud.
Surrounded by well meaning crowds by day,
alone in the thoughtful peace of night,
this soldier will in honored glory rest
under my eternal vigilance.

These Guards do most certainly deserve our respect as they protect and honor our country's Unknown Soldiers who died while in service.

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