Remembering A Veteran
On Thursday, November 11, 2021, Arlington National Cemetery will honor the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and commemorate the 100th anniversary. In July of 2010, I had the privilege of visiting Arlington and observing the guarding of the tomb.
The sentinels who guard this national symbol of respect do so 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, and seven days a week. Not a moment goes by when the tomb is left unobserved. The sentinels live by a 99-word creed guiding their actions written by a visitor in 1971 whose name was Simon. Here are the last four lines of the poem:
Surrounded by well-meaning crowds by day,
alone in the thoughtful peace of night,
this soldier will, in honored glory rest
under my eternal vigilance.
The visit to Arlington National Cemetery was an exceptional trip. I still remember walking the grounds, visiting Arlington House, and paying respects at the site of the Eternal Flame and the resting place for John F Kennedy.
All of this was brought back to me recently as I attended the funeral of a dear friend’s husband, who was being buried at the New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery in Boscawen, New Hampshire. While the scale is smaller than Arlington’s, the respect and dedication are enormous.
Pastor Doug Rickard officiated the ceremony. His quiet, kind way of speaking brought us into him. He wore a fedora hat that he told me was his father’s. He spoke lovely words about the loss of a loved one. And then, he picked up a resonator guitar that had stood silently next to him, and he began to play and sing. The beautiful silver guitar has a steel body that amplifies the sound of the notes. Pastor Rickard sang a Warren Zevon song titled “Keep Me in Your Heart.” This was the last song Zevon wrote and recorded before dying of lung cancer. It was the perfect choice for the day, and these words stood out to me.
Sometimes when you're doin' simple things around the house
Maybe you'll think of me and smile
You know I'm tied to you like the buttons on your blouse
Keep me in your heart for a while
At the military portion of the ceremony, I watched the precision and solemnity of the honor guard as they performed their duties to honor the loss of a soldier and hold dear the responsibility to the ones left behind. It was awe-inspiring. Quiet overtook the folks who attended. We watched as two soldiers in dress uniforms moved step by measured step.
When they began to fold the Old Glory flag, a man standing next to me nudged me and whispered, “every fold of the flag has a meaning.” Later I learned there are thirteen folds, and the first fold represents the “symbol of life.” When the last fold is made, and the triangular blue background and white stars encompass the flag, that final fold stands for our national motto, In God We Trust.
A distant soldier breaks the quiet of the ceremony by playing taps. That is when I felt a single tear on my cheek. And as the soldier presented the folded flag to my friend and then gave her the slow salute, it all came together, the ceremony, the sound, the dedication to honoring the soldier, one cannot help but weep.
Photo by Beverly Stoddart