Ultimate Gravetending: Tomb of the Unknowns

Photograph of a guard at the Tomb of the Unkno...

The Tomb of the Unknowns (or Tomb of the Unknown Soldier- it has never been officially named) at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA is a great example of ultimate gravetending. As it should be…the unknown soldiers deserve the ultimate respect for making the ultimate sacrifice. The Tomb of the Unknowns is a white marble sarcophagus located on top of a hill overlooking Washington, D.C. and the following words are inscribed on the back of the tomb:

Here rests in honored glory

an American soldier but known to God

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington N...

The soldiers who guard the tomb are presents 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. These men and women must have the stamina, discipline and moral strength to deal with the requirements of the job – in fact, the majority of soldiers to apply for guard duty are not selected. It’s not an easy job so only the best are chosen for the honor.

As a gravetender, this is on my bucket list for sure. I think it would be very enlightening to watch the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns. What do you think?

Have you ever been to the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington?

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Wreaths Across America

“To be killed in war is not the worst that can happen. To be lost is not the worst that can happen…to be forgotten is the worst.” – Pierre Claeyssens (1909 – 2003)

On December 10, hundreds of thousands of wreaths were laid at the graves of veterans all over the nation. This annual ceremony was organized by Wreaths Across America, a non-profit organization, and the program is a continuation and expansion of the Arlington National Cemetery wreath laying ceremony begun by Morrill Worcester in 1992.

Hundreds of volunteers gathered at Arlington t...

Morrill Worcester started laying wreaths at Arlington because he wanted to give back. “I personally believe I owe a great deal to every veteran that’s out there. I’m a very lucky man to be able to live in this country and enjoy all it has to offer, and in some small way to be able to thank veterans for all they’ve done for all of us.” According to the Wreaths Across America website, this is how it all began:

Morrill Worcester, owner of Worcester Wreath Company of Harrington, Maine, was a 12 year old paper boy for the Bangor Daily News when he won a trip to Washington D.C. His first trip to our nation’s capital was one he would never forget, and Arlington National Cemetery made an especially indelible impression on him. This experience followed him throughout his life and successful career in business, reminding him that his good fortune was due, in large part, to the values of this nation and the Veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their Country.

In 1992, Worcester Wreath found themselves with a surplus of wreaths nearing the end of the holiday season. Remembering his boyhood experience at Arlington, Worcester realized he had an opportunity to honor our country’s Veterans. With the help of Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, arrangements were made for the wreaths to be placed at Arlington in one of the older sections of the cemetery, a section which had been receiving fewer visitors with each passing year.

As plans were underway, a number of other individuals and organizations stepped up to help. James Prout, owner of local trucking company Blue Bird Ranch, Inc., generously provided transportation all the way to Virginia. Volunteers from the local American Legion and VFW Posts gathered with members of the community to decorate each wreath with traditional red, hand-tied bows. Members of the Maine State Society of Washington, D.C. helped to organize the wreath-laying, which included a special ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The annual tribute went on quietly for several years, until 2005, when a photo of the stones at Arlington, adorned with wreaths and covered in snow, circulated around the internet.  Suddenly, the project received national attention. Thousands of requests poured in from all over the country from people wanting to help with Arlington, to emulate the Arlington project at their National and State cemeteries, or to simply share their stories and thank Morrill Worcester for honoring our nation’s heroes.

Morrill and I think alike – we believe that our loved ones should be honored and never forgotten. And veterans especially deserve to be remembered for making the ultimate sacrifice. That’s why I do what I do and I fully intend to participate in next year’s wreath laying ceremony. Let me know if you’d like to join me.

Excuse Me – Is That Your Grave?

Graves at Arlington National Cemetery

Image via Wikipedia

Imagine this scenario:

It’s a bright, summer afternoon and you decide to visit your loved one’s final resting place. Let’s call your loved one Bob. You buy a lovely bouquet of Bob’s favorite flowers and are looking forward to spending some quality time at Bob’s gravesite. But when you get to the cemetery, you see someone else sobbing over Bob’s headstone!

“Excuse me, I don’t mean to interrupt,” you say. “May I ask how you knew Bob?”

“Who’s Bob? I thought this was Pete’s grave,” says the stranger.

Oops.

(OK, ignore the fact that this whole issue could easily be solved just by reading the name on the headstone. Let’s just pretend it was a blank headstone. Hey, it happens!)

Apparently, this kind of thing happens all the time. Cemeteries across the nation suffer from mismanagement, corruption and non-existent budgets, leading to bodies buried on top of each other, wrong headstones placed on graves and inaccurate record keeping. There are almost too many scandals involving cemeteries to count nowadays, with some of the more notable ones being the Arlington National Cemetery debacle and the Burr Oak Cemetery disgrace.

I think this kind of thing is unforgivable. There is no excuse for cemetery ‘management’ to mess with my loved one’s remains. At least at Arlington and Burr Oak, someone was held accountable for their actions (or inaction). But what about all the other forgotten burial grounds that have been taken over by weeds and trash? Who is responsible for those graves?

We are. And that means we should also be held accountable for not taking care of those cemeteries. The way we treat our dead now is a sign of how our children will treat us in the future. And it’s not looking good, folks.

Do you know of any forgotten or abandoned cemeteries in your area?