On Saturday, my classmates and I had the opportunity to help out at Arlington National Cemetery, laying wreaths on each of the 400,000 tombs of the incredible men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice to our country. I had never been to Arlington before, which is crazy since I’ve lived here my entire life and have gone to school down the street from it for a few years.
It was the most humbling experience that I have ever had the honor of being apart of. The information provided to us before arriving kindly reminded us that some of the tombs may not have been visited for many, many years; so out of utter respect and honor, to take a little extra time when placing wreaths. I thought this was a wonderful thing to remember, as thousands of people volunteered for this event and this fact may have gone unnoticed by most. My classmates and I made sure to take that extra minute; read the tombstone, say a little prayer and a thank you, and lay the wreath down.
It was such a beautiful sight with all of the wreaths on each of the tombstones. I was in awe as we walked through the Cemetery. Overall, I think I placed about 10-12 wreaths. The volunteers handing out wreaths from the trucks were so helpful and everything was extremely organized, despite the vast amount of volunteers.
We spent a few hours down at Arlington, laying wreaths, paying respects and just enjoying the amazing experience we were able to be apart of. It was a great way to kick off the holiday season while paying our respects to those men and women buried in the well known Cemetery.
We eventually walked our way over to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. As stated earlier, I had never been to Arlington before, so seeing the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was something I definitely wanted to do. Luckily, we approached about 10 minutes before the hour, which is when they change the guard. It was such an honor to be able to witness that with hundreds of other people.
These guards who walk in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier are incredible. If you don’t know, they guard the tomb 24/7, 365 days a year, and in any and all weather conditions. Yes, that includes blizzards, hurricanes, heat waves and everything in between. Here is some more information about the guard that I just learned from reading that. Truly honorable. From the site is an excerpt below that I found fascinating – I noticed that they walk a distinct pattern, and this describes that pattern:
“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, then takes 21 steps down the mat and repeats the process. After the turn, the sentinel executes a sharp “shoulder-arms” movement to place the weapon on the shoulder closest to the visitors to signify that the sentinel 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.”
This picture is from when I placed the wreath, below, and turned around to see this view. It’s hard to tell because the picture gets blurry when I make it larger – but right there in the middle is the Washington Monument. It was such a beautiful view!
I think some of my favorite parts of the day were seeing tombstones of individuals who were born in the 1800s. I know that the Cemetery is 150 years old, but it still amazes me when I see something from so long ago. And then to remember that we are the country we are today due to those men and women’s sacrifices – it was just extremely humbling.
My favorite picture of the day came when we were walking back up to Rosslyn to grab some lunch. All of the tombs had wreaths and it was just a beautiful sight so I stopped to snap a picture.
Overall, this experience was something that I definitely want to do again in the future. So many families were there and I kept thinking, what a great learning experience for these children and I would love to bring my nephew to this to have him be apart something so incredible.