Veterans Day memorials and the Tomb of the Unknowns

Years ago, when I was visiting my great aunt who lived near Ft. Knox, Kentucky, she took me to the base’s officers’ club for dinner. She was a major. Here’s the thing. She became a major during WWII, and, years later, whenever she passed onto the base, she had the honor of being saluted at the gate by a young strapping male. She was in her mid 80s. Sweet. I was impressed.

With Veterans Day being today, I thought of her. This got me thinking about memorials as well. There’s no better memorial bounty than Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Here’s the line-up. If you click on each, you’ll get a mini history lesson: Civil War Memorial, Spanish American War Memorial, World War I Memorial, National World War II Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, and Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

One of the most moving places at the cemetery, I think, is the Tomb of the Unknowns. Here there are four white marble sarcophagus, one for WWI, WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Inside each is a soldier (or soldiers) from that particular war who was unidentified. That soldier stands for all the other soldiers who died from that particular war and were never identified.

Stop by during the Changing of the Guard, an elaborate feat of solemn pageantry. As I was looking for more information about this tomb, since I haven’t been here since I was perhaps in the 8th grade, I came across the Society of the Honor Guards Web site. This organization is made up of soldiers who have guarded the Tomb of the Unknown Solider (It’s more common name) since the 1920s. The page of FAQs provides info like the number of steps the guard walks with each pass of the tomb. Answer is 21. The number symbolizes the 21 Gun Salute.

With DNA testing, it seems never being identified is not as likely to happen. Even the tomb for the unknown soldier from the Vietnam War is empty. In 1998, DNA tests were done on the remains of this soldier and he was identified as Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie. It’s even known what happened to him. He was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam. Since he was exhumed, the tomb has remained empty. That’s haunting and as poignant, I think.