Veterans Day is approaching, and its origin is linked to the cease fire between allied forces and Germany ending World War I, known as the Armistice of Compiegne. This truce took effect on November 11, 1918 at 11 a.m. or “the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month,” quoting General John Pershing. President Woodrow Wilson officially recognized November 11 as Armistice Day on the first anniversary of the truce in 1919. Congress then passed a resolution in 1926 naming it a day of national observance and followed up by donning it a national holiday in 1938.
Unlike Memorial Day, which originated after The Civil War to recognize those who died, Armistice Day’s original intent was to recognize all those who served in World War I, the war to end all wars. World War II changed that perspective, so in 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the new law renaming the holiday Veterans Day and recognizing service members from all wars.
Though not often associated, this holiday and The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier are connected also. On November 11, 1921 the remains of an unknown World War I soldier, previously buried in France, were interred in the new Memorial Amphitheater in Arlington National Cemetery. The marble sarcophagus above the grave has three Greek figures sculpted into its face representing peace, victory and valor, with an inscription on the back that reads: “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”
As time passed, our soldiers have been summoned for other wars and conflicts. Subsequently, unknown tombs have been added for World War II and the Korean War in 1958 and for the Vietnam War in 1984. All four Unknowns have been awarded the Medal of Honor, uniquely presented to honor “all unknown Americans” who died in service during that particular conflict. The four medals are on display at the monument.
No discussion about The Tomb of the Unknown Solider is complete without mention of the Tomb Guard sentinels and the Changing of the Guard ceremony. The Tomb is guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year by elite members of the 3rd US Infantry Regiment, which is the oldest regiment in the Army, serving our nation since 1784.
Only witnessing the guard changing can do it justice, and it occurs every hour from Oct. 1 to March 31 and every half hour from April 1 to Sept. 30. Everything about the elaborate ritual is impeccable. There are exactly 21 steps taken, back and forth, with 21 second pauses during the changing as the ultimate show of respect, rooted in the 21 gun salute ritual, which is the highest military honor. The white glove weapon inspection, the 90 step-per-minute marching cadence, the salutes and the positioning of their rifle on the shoulder…..all of it has meaning.
The debt we owe our sons and daughters in the military is unpayable. Next time you see someone in uniform in a diner or at Wawa, thank them for their service and pick up the tab for breakfast or a tank of gas.