For some strange reason, I have an attraction to cemeteries and have often wondered why? I can only suggest it is the obsession I have with the lives of people in the past and the heroes of this world. When I recently had the gracious opportunity to visit Arlington National Cemetery in Washington DC, it was an overload. As I walked viewing the markers and reading the names of those buried there, I felt mute and stunned. It wasn’t until I returned to Turkey and had a chance to download the images, did the tears start to flow.
In looking at the rolls of grave markers that seemed to go on to infinity, I guessed there were probably 10,000 graves. I was not correct. On the web I found there are over 400,000. This stunned me!
I also thought the cemetery had only a few heroes interned each year and was shocked to find there are 3-4 a day! Below are images I took of a parade as it passed by. At first I did not know what was going on, until I saw the horse drawn carriage roll by. It was then I realized I was witnessing a funeral procession and I backed away behind trees with my camera to keep from dishonoring its solemnity.
This is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier that is guarded by the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, day, night, sun, storm and snow.
The Tomb of the Unknowns has been perpetually guarded since July 2, 1937, by the U.S. Army. The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (“The Old Guard”) began guarding the Tomb on April 6, 1948. There is a meticulous routine which the guard follows when watching over the graves. The Tomb Guard:
Marches 21 steps down the black mat behind the Tomb.
Turns, faces east for 21 seconds.
Turns and faces north for 21 seconds.
Takes 21 steps down the mat.
Repeats the routine until the soldier is relieved of duty at the “Changing of the Guard”.
After each turn, the Guard executes a sharp “shoulder-arms” movement to place the weapon on the shoulder closest to the visitors to signify that the Guard stands between the Tomb and any possible threat.
Twenty-one was chosen because it symbolizes the highest military honor that can be bestowed—the 21-gun salute.
Each turn the guard makes precise movements and followed by a loud click of the heels as he snaps them together. The guard is changed every half hour during daylight in the summer, and every hour during daylight in the winter and every two hours at night (when the cemetery is closed to the public), regardless of weather conditions.
Following the tolling of the bell in the tower nearby, a large soldier with broad shoulders and a very stern attitude, silently marched out to direct the changing of the guards.
He is followed by the guard who will replace the incumbent. Before this takes place, he will be inspected by the directing soldier with the broad shoulders and stern attitude.
There is a full 3 or 4 minutes during which the replacement is thoroughly inspected. The stern soldier looks him over, up, down, left and right while standing in front of him just a mere 18 inches away.
Then from the close quarters, the replacement soldier thrusts his rifle into the hands of the stern soldier for inspection. He flips the rifle in all directions inspecting it. He will look at the stock, forearm, barrel and muzzle. The rifle is twirled like a baton as he checks it for cleanness and shine. I believe the only thing he did not do to the rifle was turn it inside out. He then thrust it back to the replacement, who deftly caught it and returned it to his shoulder.
Then in a loud, very clear voice, he commanded everyone to stand and remain quiet. No one misunderstand what he was saying, except one young lady who was mesmerized by her phone. Without turning his head or moving any part of his body except one arm, he raised it toward her and stately commanded her to stand. She realized she was the only one sitting and rose. Very quickly.
Every movement made was quick and sharp. Every turn of the body was with a foot stomp followed by a hard clack of the boots as they came together. The only thing they did quietly and graceful, was the actual march from one side of the shrine to the other.
Laying in Wait, Beneath the Earth
It was interesting to note, the spouses of the fallen (or some of the children of single parents) were buried on the opposite side of the stone, and it is recorded that many slaves are buried there also.
Looking closely at this stone, it honors the men who fought in the famous battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack in 1862. Two iron clad ships that fought for hours. The Monitor eventually was lost during a gale off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, on December 31, 1862.
There was so much to see, that I will return each time I am in the DC area.
I took over a hundred pictures and culled out the best. They are on our Flickr site. To see them, click on this: Flickr
If you would like to spend an half hour on some very interesting reading, click on this Wikipedia article.
Until next time, kick butt. And if you are an American, take a moment to silently thank those who gave their lives so we can continue to be a free country. D.