SHAKO: Memorial Day 2013

May 27, 2013 at 12:17 pm Leave a comment

Ideals Carved in Stone

U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jose A. Torres Jr.

U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jose A. Torres Jr.

In late May every year, soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment – known as The Old Guard because it is the oldest serving unit of the Army – place American flags at every grave marker in Virginia’s Arlington National Cemetery in advance of the Memorial Day holiday, which honors the nation’s war dead. The cemetery is located in Virginia, just across the Potomac River from the nation’s capital, Washington.

If you click on the above image to enlarge it, you’ll notice the symbols at the top of the headstones of the first three graves indicate (from left to right) the deceased is a Christian, a Jew or a Muslim who all died in the service to their country. Behind these three headstones, on the left, you can also make out the grave of a woman Army officer, who earned the Bronze Star medal in Iraq.

We think these symbols, purchased with blood and carved in stone, are silent testaments of the ideals that America stands for — even if the road to achieving those ideals has been a rocky one since 1776. In the not so distant past, men and women of all races, colors or creeds — even if they weren’t treated equally back home — still answered the nation’s call to serve, sometimes at the risk of their own lives, because they believed in those ideals.

Today, the Army notes that “though they may differ in faith or background, all soldiers bleed the same color for our country. They serve with honor and integrity, and those that fall are all given the same honors.”

Each May, the soldiers of The Old Guard, who also provide military honors at burial services in Arlington, fan out across the cemetery’s rolling lines of graves — and in a matter of just a few hours — place the small flags a uniform distance from each marker and then salute.

On May 23, about 1,200 Old Guard soldiers participated in the “Flags In” event this year, and about 220,000 graves received a flag, as did memorial markers and rows of urns at the cemetery’s columbarium, according to Army Maj. John Miller, spokesman for the Old Guard.

The tradition dates back to the Grand Army of the Republic in 1868 to honor Union Soldiers that had fallen during the Civil War, Miller said. The custom was interrupted a few times over the years but the Old Guard revived it after World War II.

Army Sgt. Titus Fields of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment -- The Old Guard -- places an American flag in front of a gravestone in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., May 23, 2013. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jose A. Torres Jr.)

Army Sgt. Titus Fields of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment — The Old Guard — places an American flag in front of a gravestone in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., May 23, 2013. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jose A. Torres Jr.)

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SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.

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Entry filed under: Afghanistan, Iraq, National Security and Defense, Photos, SHAKO, Traditions, Washington. Tags: , , , , , , .

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