“A lone Soldier stands on an open plaza, buffeted by bone-chilling wind. Twenty-one steps. Turn. Stand at attention for 21 seconds. Turn. Repeat. The sun drops. The temperature falls. The crowds depart. The Soldier continues his solitary walk.
The cemetery closes at 5 p.m., but closing brings little relief. The Soldier is only 12 hours into a 27-hour shift. He has spent every other hour marching in the bitter cold, and still has a long, frigid night of training on the plaza before he can go home at seven the next morning.
None of this fazes the Soldier, for he is a sentinel, a guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. He has one of the most sacred missions in the military, and he would walk through fire to honor and protect the fallen, nameless Soldiers under his watch.
In the early 1920s, the modern world was still emerging, shell-shocked, from World War I. The “”war to end all wars”” had claimed entire countries, monarchies and an untold number of lives, many who are still nameless and faceless.
Following the examples of allies like Great Britain and France, Congress approved a resolution to ceremonially honor and bury one of America’s countless unknown World War I casualties in a special tomb at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., in 1921. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was dedicated that Nov. 11-then known as Armistice Day-by President Warren G. Harding, with the inscription: “”Here Rests In Honored Glory An American Soldier Known But To God.””
It was an emotional, touching precedent and unknown, fallen servicemembers from World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam were later interred at the tomb with full military honors. The servicemembers were chosen randomly from unmarked graves at U.S. cemeteries, with final selections made by highly decorated veterans. Each of the unknowns has been ceremonially awarded the Medal of Honor and other decorations, such as Britain’s Victoria Cross and Belgium’s and France’s Croix de Guerre. (Note: The unknown from Vietnam was identified as Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Blassie in 1998, although a marker remains in honor of all the missing and unidentified servicemen from that war.) ”