Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Never-Ending Vigil

As it churns up the eastern seaboard, Hurricane Irene has produced a number of "firsts," or near-firsts.

On Saturday afternoon, for example, New York's mass transit system shut down for the first time in history. Subways, buses, ferries and other transportation systems--used by millions of passengers each day--ceased operations until the storm passes, leaving New Yorkers stranded at home, or looking for other ways to get around.

And Times Square, often referred to as the "crossroads of the world," was nearly a ghost town. In the words of Fox anchor Shepard Smith only "European tourists" were venturing out, while residents hunkered down for the approaching storm.

Yet, amid the flurry of cancellations and closings, one American institution soldiered on, quite literally. We refer to the sentries who stand vigil over the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Not even a Category 1 hurricane, with high winds, torrential rains and flooding, is enough to keep the men (and women) of the Army's 3rd Infantry Regiment from their assigned duties. As the Daily Beast reports:

“The tomb has been guarded continuously since 1948,” said Maj. John Miller, a spokesman for the Old Guard, the Army unit that patrols the place. “There’s been severe in the past. There will be severe weather in the future. We have contingency plans


Tradition has dictated that the tomb remain guarded at all times. There has been at least one soldier watching over the tomb since the Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment took over the mission a few years after the end of World War II. A sentinel is present 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, including holidays.

When it rains, the guard stands under a green nylon tent that’s used for wreath-laying ceremonies to shield him from the inclement weather. As the winds start to pick up Saturday afternoon and into Sunday, he will then, if necessary, move into what’s known as the “Memorial Display Room,” essentially a marble enclosure that holds plaques and other honoraria dedicated to the unknown soldiers. From there, the guard will have “a continual line of sight on the tomb,” Miller said.

As of this posting (just before 11 pm EST Saturday night), there is heavy wind and rain at Arlington, so the sentry is, presumably, inside the Display Room, out of the elements, but maintaining his vigil. Once the weather passes, the sentinel will return to his outdoors post, and
resume his precise ritual before the tomb.

Just as it has been, every hour of every day since 1937.

1 comment:

Joe said...

Completely underwhelming storm damage images from Alexandria VA: