Monday, October 29, 2012

Standing for Something

"Here rests in honored glory An American Soldier known but to God."

Some years ago, I was touring Arlington National Cemetery. A small crowd gathered at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I guessed - correctly - that the guard changing ceremony was about to begin.

An NCO, a sergeant, marched purposefully to the center of the viewing area. Six feet tall, trim and fit, his perfect uniform displayed the kinds of ribbons and insignia of a man who had been there and done that. Among his doodads was the Combat Infantryman Badge. He'd been in combat.

He spoke in a clear, commanding voice. When the ceremony began, he thundered, we would stand - silent and still. I had no doubt that the consequences of ignoring this man would be grave. Even his harsh glare might do permanent damage, to my soul if nothing else. I did as I was told, as did everyone around me.

Behind me among the crowd was a cluster of elderly, frail men. They bore a wreath. Plainly, they had come to pay respects and lay their token at the tomb. Their hats identified them as veterans from Ohio. At the conclusion of the ceremony the NCO made his way to this group.

"Don't worry about a thing, sir" the sergeant said to one of them, soft, calm and assuring voice visibly relaxing the men. "You just let me do all the work. We'll go at your pace."

Today, as a storm brews along the East Coast, soldiers guard The Tomb. They represent the best of America, epitomized by the young African-American sergeant who shepherded a group of old warriors on one last mission of valor.

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