There is low hanging fog from the storm the night before, as we drive up to the station in Venice, VA. We arrive and load into the shining tube on wheels that will take us into the heart of DC and then back out to Arlington. As we arrive there is a palpable heaviness that overwhelms you. You climb the steps from the station and emerge on Memorial Ave. The stream of visitors at this hour is still light but becomes increasingly heavier with every step. As you walk up the avenue you pass statue after statue dedicated to battles, battalions, and soldiers who gave their lives to ensure that you are here today. As you pass through the gates, you take a moment to study the gold crest of the different branches of the U.S. Military services, and then it happens. It happens to everyone. You promise yourself that you're stronger than you are, and try to fight it. You look you up and as far as you see, are the tombstones of your countrymen and women. You do your best but you're overwhelmed with emotion, and find yourself crying. Not from grief, or sadness, but because there is no other way to express the overwhelming level of respect and gratitude that sweeps over you.
The fog has cleared and the sun is poking it's head over the horizon as you begin your walk up the hill. You walk past heroes like Sargent Allan Eggers, who crossed a battle field under constant German machine gun fire to save an officer and 2 soldiers from a disabled tank brought them to a nearby trench. He then returned to the tank, retrieved their Hotchkiss gun, which allowed them to the hold the Germans back until ally forces could reach them. You walk past the generals, privates, sergeants, sailors, marines, grunts and infantry members that stood at the gates of hell and stopped the tide of destruction that spewed forth. Many of them gave their lives to do so, the rest lived with the nightmares for the rest of their lives. You stop and pray for a society in the future where soldiers don't need to exist, but also thank God that the American Soldier is on your side.
As we reach the top, the already near silent cemetery becomes a world absent of sound, for you have arrived at the Tomb of the Unknown solider. You take your place in the viewing gallery with people that have come from all over the planet to show their respect for the men and women that have, for the last two and half centuries, given their lives, standing between mankind and their oppressors. Tears run from every eye.
The only sounds you can hear now are the mechanical steps from the guard pacing as he carries out the endless watch for his fallen brethren. His steps fall with prefect precision, his turns at each end are completed with sound of metal on metal as he switches the gun from one shoulder to the other, and his uniform is so completely untouched that you almost feel like you're in a dream. He will stand guard until he is replaced with another soldier of equal discipline and ability throughout the day. They never leave duty for rain, snow, sleet, lighting, hurricanes or fire. At 30 past the hour the Staff Sergeant comes out of the barracks with the next guard. The changing of the guard takes approximately 5 minutes. During the ceremony, it is ensured that the constant vigilance is never broken. The new solider walks side by side with solider coming off duty and the two switch seamlessly. There are few places in the world were you can go to see true perfection, this is one of them