Centennial of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery

Matt Scott

At 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 2021 (Veterans Day) the people of the United States will mark the passage of 100 years since the interment of an unidentifiable member of the American Expeditionary Forces of World War I in Arlington National Cemetery. The place of interment has come to be known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and regarded as America’s most sacred shrine. As intended, it is dedicated to all veterans who have served and sacrificed on behalf of America and to their families. It is a place that captures the very heart of America.

Congressman Hamilton Fish, Jr. who was a U.S. Congressman from New York in 1921, a veteran of WWI, an officer in the Harlem Hell Fighters fighting in WWI, and a Silver Star recipient, was also the major proponent, in early 1921, for the establishment of a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Congressman Fish hoped that, “The grave of this unidentified warrior will become a shrine of patriotism for all ages to come, which will be a source of inspiration, reverence, and love of country for future generations.”

Millions of Americans have embraced that vision by their pilgrimage to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and continued reverence over the generations, eloquently expressed by their profound gratitude and commitment to America. While we have witnessed the passing of generations, and with them the challenges of their times, we have also witnessed the profound respect, love, and pride in the eyes and faces of our fellow Americans.

Since 1948, selected members of the 3rd U.S. Army Infantry Regiment have served as honor guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. These dedicated men and women stand guard at the tomb, continually marching to and fro in rain or snow, regardless of conditions, never shirking from their duty to guard the hallowed tomb. Members of this honor guard have formed the Society of the Honor Guard, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (SHGTUS). The goal of the society is to make certain that the individuals that made the ultimate sacrifice of their life for our freedom are not forgotten, and that the general public understands this price of freedom.

Soldiers never die until they are forgotten. Tomb guards never forget. Those who serve as members of the honor guard have a profound understanding that the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier fosters a unifying national identity that transcends our differences of race, religion, or politics. We are all Americans, all created equal.

Since the end of the Civil War, Memorial Day (originally Decoration Day) has also been a day set aside for remembering and honoring the millions who have fallen while serving in the Armed Forces of the United States. Millions of Americans gather as families, or individually, and visit cemeteries and memorials.

Unfortunately, this year COVID-19 presents challenges for us to remember and honor our dead. Many local communities have also suspended the practice of “flags in” at local cemeteries, ceremonies, and parades, citing social and physical distancing recommendations by health departments.

Veterans Day is a federal holiday, but it is not just another day off from work. For America, it is the day set aside that we officially remember all of our veterans, and for many individuals it is that painful time to remember those veterans who “gave their tomorrows for our today.” Most will decorate the graves of loved ones and comrades with flowers and mementos, wear a red poppy, or participate in a parade or ceremony. Many will just quietly visit a grave to remember and be close.

Yet there are millions of Americans who can never visit the graves of those who never came home from war. The oceans cradle many who have been lost at sea, while graves across this nation and in foreign lands have headstones that declare that an unknown American rests here. Where do these families go?

We encourage each of you to consider installing a Never Forget Garden and marker to recognize and remember all those who have and will serve and sacrifice on behalf of America. It is the society’s intention that this living memorial serve as a kind of proxy not only for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, but for your loved one’s final resting place that you may not be able to visit this year. In doing so, you will keep their memory alive.

Some of our PebbleCreek neighbors either have already done so, or are in the process of installing their own Never Forget Gardens. The first of these is Matt Scott, who is also an associate member of SHGTUS. Matt’s garden can be viewed from the common area path behind his home on Whitton Avenue in Tuscany Falls.

The society envisions that, through this garden, we can express our feelings in ways that words sometimes cannot. A Never Forget Garden can, and should, evoke emotions in individuals, but should also foster an occasion for shared emotions and especially learning why this garden is here. There are stories to be told of our veterans from the past and our servicemen and women, current and future. It will create opportunities for teaching and remembrance and to express what resides in the hearts of our fellow Americans … “I will never ever forget you—I am with you.”

There is a unifying effect in the language that flowers offer in expressing the profound emotions of patriotism, remembrance, and love. The languages of music, prose, and poetry offer unique ways to express and communicate love for America, patriotism, and remembrance; so too with the language of flowers. For something that is often small, a flower has the ability to provoke intensely strong emotions. Flowers bring joy and give comfort to those who grieve. We give flowers to the mother of a newborn child to welcome him or her to the world. We include flowers as we celebrate birthdays, weddings, and other special occasions. We also place flowers on the coffins of our loved ones as part of our final farewell. Few things in this world have the power to express our emotions and matters of the heart. Your Never Forget Garden can foster a unifying national identity that will transcend our political, social, religious, or regional differences. Every flower, plant, or tree will be a symbol of love and an act of unity. Growing such is a very personal experience in a very personal space. While we may be deprived of our customary paths of remembrance on Veterans Day this year, your personal Never Forget Garden will be a place that will allow you to be close all year round. It can be our generation’s “electric cord” that connects us to each other and, especially, to those who we owe a debt that can never be repaid.

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