I was honored to join Franklin’s Anthony Gromelski in a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Ceremony in Washington, DC. Anthony is the Great Incohonee of the Improved Order of Red Men, America’s oldest fraternal organization which traces its origins back to 1765 and is descended from the Sons of Liberty. This was the 56th Annual Red Men’s Day at the Tomb and an opportunity to pay tribute to fallen patriots.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery is hallowed ground. It stands atop a hill overlooking Washington, D.C. The white marble sarcophagus has a flat-faced form and is relieved at the corners and along the sides by neo-classic pilasters, or columns, set into the surface. Sculpted into the east panel which faces Washington, D.C., are three Greek figures representing Peace, Victory, and Valor. The six wreaths, three sculpted on each side, represent the six major campaigns of World War I. Inscribed on the back of the Tomb are the words:
Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.
The Tomb sarcophagus was placed above the grave of the Unknown Soldier of World War I. West of the World War I Unknown are the crypts of unknowns from World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Those three graves are marked with white marble slabs flush with the plaza.
An Honor Guard keeps 24-hour vigil over the site, 365 days per year to honor all American service members who have fallen but who have not been identified.
The gift of flowers at memorial sites like this bespeak both the beauty and the brevity of life and evoke memories of other days. And we pay our respects and demonstrate that we never forget the heroes who have fallen in defense of our nation.
Participating in the wreath laying ceremony was a tremendous honor, and I felt awed by the enormity of what we encountered standing before the remains of Unknowns who nobly served. They were called to be part of something bigger than themselves. They were ordinary people who responded in extraordinary ways in extreme times. They rose to the nation’s call because they wanted to protect a nation which has given them and us, so much. They pledged to fight for us, protect others, and pay the ultimate sacrifice.
Warriors are selfless creatures. They fight as a team and as a family, and they look out for one another to their last dying breaths. It’s as noble a calling as any, and at the Tomb, every day we honor those who took that pledge but never returned home.
The fallen patriots gave their lives so that we might live ours -- so that a daughter might grow up to pursue her dreams; so that a wife might be able to live a long life, free and secure; so that a mother might raise her family in a land of peace and freedom. Everything that we hold precious in this country was made possible by Americans who gave their all. And because of them, our nation is stronger, safer, and will always remain a shining beacon of freedom for the rest of the world.
The experience further instilled in me the importance of the work we do in government every day. And it is in that vein that we must continue to uphold Abraham Lincoln’s words regarding America’s obligation to repay our debt to those who died in service to our country:
“It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain…”
-Rep. Jeff Roy