It’s funny how one thing leads to another and the next thing you know, you’re writing a book you hadn’t planned on writing.
My dad’s cousin, JJ, often sends him funny quotes or memes, or things to make him smile. He also shares interesting tidbits of information. Dad chooses the things he likes best and sends them on to me.
One of his “chosen favorites” from JJ was a lovely post written about the soldiers who guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. I’d heard of the cemetery, had never visited it, and knew there were guards, but that was about the extent of my knowledge when I opened that email from dad.
After reading what was shared, I had to know more. I needed to know more about the soldiers who guard the Tomb and the cemetery. And that knowledge led to me writing a sweet contemporary romance about a Tomb Guard, a nurse, and an array of wacky wildlife.
In 1857, George Washington Parke Custis, grandson of Martha Washington and step-grandson of George Washington, willed an 1,100 acre property to his daughter Mary Anna Randolph Custis, who was married to Robert E. Lee. The Lee family vacated the estate in 1861 at the onset of the Civil War, and federal troops soon occupied the property as a camp and headquarters.
In 1863, the government established Freedman’s Village, on the estate as a way to assist slaves transitioning to freedom. The village provided housing, education, training, and medical care. As the number of Civil War casualties grew faster than other local cemeteries could handle them, the property became a burial location. The first military burial took place on May 13, 1864, when Private William Christman was laid to rest there.
That June, the War Department officially set aside 200 acres of the property to use as a cemetery. By the end of the war, thousands of service members and former slaves were buried there. Eventually, the Lee family received compensation for the property although the land remained with the War Department. Today, the cemetery has since grown to exceed 600 acres and is one of the oldest national cemeteries in America.
Evolving from a place of necessity to a national shrine to those who have served honorably in our Nation, the rolling hills have become the final resting place to more than 400,00 active duty service members, veterans, and their families. An average of 27-30 services are held each week day and more than 3,000 ceremonies and memorial services take place each year. Among the notable graves include presidents (President Kennedy and President Taft), astronauts (including John Glenn and Christa McAuliffe), and celebrities (such as Maureen O’Hara, Lee Marvin, and Audie Murphy).
At first, being buried at Arlington was not considered an honor, but it did ensure service members whose families couldn’t afford to bring them home for a funeral were given a proper burial. The first official Decoration Day (later renamed Memorial Day) was held at Arlington National Cemetery on May 30, 1868. The event was so popular, an amphitheater was constructed in 1873 to hold the official ceremonies. By the late 1870s, high-ranking veterans began requesting burial in the Officers’ Sections.
In 1899, the U.S. Government began, at its own expense, repatriating service members who died overseas during the Spanish-American War. The cemetery expanded to include Sections 21, 22, and 24. Congress authorized, in 1900, a designated section for Confederate soldiers. After World War I, more than 2,000 service members were repatriated and interred in Sections 18 and 19.
In October 1921, four bodies of unidentified U.S. military personnel were exhumed from various American military cemeteries in France. The four caskets were taken to the city hall of Châlons-sur-Marne (now called Châlons-en-Champagne), France. Town officials and members of the U.S. Army’s Quartermaster Corps had prepared the city hall for the selection ceremony. Early on the morning of October 24, 1921, Maj. Robert P. Harbold of the Quartermaster Corps oversaw the arrangement of the caskets so that each rested on a shipping case other than the one in which it had arrived. Major Harbold then chose Sgt. Edward F. Younger of Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 50th Infantry, American Forces in Germany, to select the Unknown Soldier. Sgt. Younger selected the Unknown by placing a spray of white roses on one of the caskets. From Châlons-sur-Marne, the Unknown journeyed by caisson and rail to the port town of Le Havre, France. From Le Havre, the Unknown Soldier’s casket was transported to Washington, D.C. on the USS Olympia. The Unknown Soldier arrived at the Washington Navy Yard on November 9, 1921, and was taken to the Capitol Rotund. The Unknown lay in state in there on November 10 with around 90,000 visitors paying their respects that day.
On November 11, 1921, the Unknown was placed on a horse-drawn caisson and carried in a procession through Washington, D.C. and across the Potomac River. A state funeral ceremony was held at Arlington National Cemetery’s amphitheater, and the Unknown was interred in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Nationwide, Americans observed two minutes of silence at the beginning of the ceremony. President Warren G. Harding officiated the ceremony and placed the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military decoration, on the casket. Additionally, numerous foreign dignitaries presented their nations’ highest awards.
Originally, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier consisted of a simple marble slab. Thousands of visitors came to Arlington National Cemetery to mourn at the Tomb and to pay their respects to the Unknown Soldier and the military personnel he represented. The tomb was unguarded, since most people were respectfully. But it became more popular with people to treat the tomb as a tourist attraction. It’s said some even picnicked on the tomb because of the grand view it provided.
In 1926, the Army assigned soldiers as guards. A sarcophagus was installed in 1932. The Tomb sarcophagus is decorated with three wreaths on each side panel (north and south). On the front (east), three figures represent Peace, Victory and Valor. The back (west) features the inscription: “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.” (This inscription gets to me every time I read it.)
President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill to select and pay tribute to the Unknowns of World War II and the Korean War in 1956. The selection ceremonies and the interment of these Unknowns took place in 1958. The caskets of the World War II and Korean Unknowns arrived in Washington on May 28, 1958, where they lay in the Capitol Rotunda until the morning of May 30. They were then carried on caissons to Arlington National Cemetery. President Eisenhower awarded each the Medal of Honor, and the Unknowns of World War II and the Korean War were interred in the plaza beside their World War I comrade. A Vietnam Unknown was added in 1984. An Army caisson carried the Vietnam Unknown from the Capitol to the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day, May 28, 1984. President Reagan presided over the funeral, and presented the Medal of Honor to the Vietnam Unknown, and also acted as next of kin by accepting the interment flag at the end of the ceremony. With modern technology, the Vietnam Unknown was exhumed in 1998 and identified. His remains were transported to his family in St. Louis, where he was reinterred at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. The slab over the empty crypt was since been replaced. The inscription of “Vietnam” has been changed to “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen 1958 – 1975” as a reminder of the commitment of the Armed Forces to the fullest possible accounting of missing service members.
Beginning in 1937, guards were stationed 24-hours a day to keep watch over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In 1948, the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), took over the prestigious duty and continue to guard the Tomb today. Known as sentinels, the soldiers provide security for the Tomb, lead ceremonies, and maintain the sanctity of the space. To them, they honor the Unknowns through the precision of their rituals.
The sentinels are amazing.
After digging into the research of this unique soldier, they have my highest respect and admiration for their service and dedication.
Soldiers who volunteer to become Tomb guards must go through a strict selection process and intensive training. Each element of their routine has meaning. The guard marches 21 steps down the black mat behind the Tomb, turns and faces east for 21 seconds, turns and faces north for 21 seconds, and then takes 21 steps down the mat. Next, the Guard executes a sharp “shoulder-arms” movement to place his/her weapon on the shoulder closest to the visitors, signifying that he or she stands between the Tomb and any possible threat. The number 21 symbolizes the highest symbolic military honor that can be bestowed: the 21-gun salute.
Now imagine doing that in searing summer heat (in a wool uniform), in pouring rain, or freezing snow. It’s what they do. Every single day.
The Sentinels have a creed they live by. One of my favorite lines is this one: And with dignity and perseverance my standard will remain perfection.
In my sweet romance Lake Bride (releasing June 23), the hero has spent the past two years of his life as a Sentinel. He’s at a crossroads in his life, trying to find himself and direction for his future. When his favorite relative, Uncle Wally, passes away and leaves him a cabin on a lake in Eastern Oregon, Bridger sees the perfect opportunity to get away and figure out what to do with the rest of his life.
If you read my book Henley that was part of the Love Train series, Bridger is a great-great-great-grandson to Evan and Henley Holt!
A solemn soldier.
A woman full of sunshine.
And the lake where they fall in love.
Twenty-one steps. The past two years of Bridger Holt’s life have centered on the twenty-one steps he repeatedly walks back and forth as one of the sentinels guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Now that his duty is coming to an end, Bridger has no idea what to do with the rest of his life. Guilt from his past and trepidation about his unknown future drive him to the mountain cabin he inherited from his beloved uncle to gain clarity and direction. The quirky residents in the nearby town of Holiday, the assortment of wildlife that adopts him, and the woman who shines a light into his tattered soul might be what Bridger needs to find the redemption he seeks.
Outgoing, upbeat Shayla Reeves spreads sunshine wherever she goes. Holiday has become her home, and she enjoys spending time in the mountains around town. She adores the patients in the dementia facility where she works as a nurse. But something is missing from her mostly joyful world. When she mistakenly camps on private land owned by the mysterious and brooding Bridger Holt, she realizes what her life is lacking isn’t adventure but love.
Will two opposite personalities overcome their challenges and figure out a way to build a future together?
Find out in this sweet love story full of hope, small-town humor, and the wonder of falling in love.
Pre-order your copy of Lake Bride today!
You can get a free Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Commemorative Guide to download at this link: https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Interactive/2021/10-tomb-of-the-unkown-soldier/TUS-Commemorative-Guide.pdf
To enter for a chance to win a Lake Bride postcard, bookmark, and some other fun goodies,
just share if you’ve ever been to Arlington National Cemetery.
If yes, what did you most enjoy there?
If no, share about a place you’ve visited that was special to you.