Most people never get to stand on the plaza at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Members of the public have just the third opportunity in the last several decades to be there on Sunday, 28 May 23. On that day, from 9 AM to 5 PM, members of the public can stand on the plaza and lay a flower at the Tomb. (Go to our Events page for more information)
I was fortunate in my military career to have been one of those authorized to stand on the plaza. First, as the commander of the company in which the Tomb Sentinels were assigned and that was responsible for all joint ceremonies at the Tomb, I was the officer-in-charge of wreath ceremonies for visiting dignitaries. Later as the commander of the 3d Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), I hosted some of those dignitaries when they laid wreaths at the Tomb. Before relinquishing command of the regiment, my family laid a wreath at the Tomb. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been afforded the honor of standing on the plaza.
However, even to this day, I choke up a bit when I’m at the Tomb. During the Tomb’s Centennial, my wife (herself a retired soldier) and I laid a flower at the Tomb as the Centennial commemoration was coming to a close. We’d agreed that I would give the quiet commands so that we executed our movements in unison. We walked onto the plaza, halted, faced the Tomb, laid our flowers, and saluted. I felt tears welling in my eyes and a lump in my throat. I couldn’t get out the command to drop our salutes, face to the right, and walk off the plaza. Even after all those times there, the power of the experience left me speechless. Fortunately, my wife saw what was happening to me and issued the commands for me.
I hope others will take advantage of the rare opportunity to lay a flower at the Tomb later this month. As our Foundation President says, “Watch people as they depart the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They leave profoundly changed.”