I didn’t take any pictures at the Changing of the Guard Ceremony.
I have reached the point where I can’t even watch the traditional Memorial Day Laying of the Wreath ceremony anymore because I cannot take the clicking of the shutters, the whirring of the film (or whatever) and all that damn electronic beeping and buzzing during the ceremony. It’s not like there aren’t thousands upon thousands of pictures of the Ceremony out there already, so any picture that I might have taken would have been just one of millions – if not billions – of the same picture that you can see pretty much anywhere on the Interwebs. Scientists say that we are taking so many pictures that we fail to imprint and recall the events of which we are taking pictures. We might as well not even go to them. So when I found myself at the Changing of the Guard at Arlington National Cemetery, I just left my camera on the bus and turned my phone off.
We actually arrived about 45 minutes early, and since I had the spare time, I went on up to the Tomb of the Unknowns. There I found that as the sun was just beginning to rise over the Nation, there were just two living people there – me, and a Guard from the 3rd Infantry Regiment. He walked his post, I watched.
For nearly twenty minutes it was just him and me. I stood holding onto the rail because age and infirmity are catching up with me and I was afraid to fall down, as he took twenty-one steps in a precise military bearing each way, stopping to face the tomb at each end, and then repeating the move.
It’s surprisingly unquiet. Washington D.C. buzzes with action and traffic, giant airliners whine overhead every minute. Leaf blowers move leaves off of the sidewalks and graves, while Busses and cars slam doors or start engines. But after a few moments, all of that cacophony faded into the background and all I could really hear was the sound of the Guard clicking his heels and shifting his rifle.
Back and forth. Back and forth.
There are other things to see here, but I could not bear to move away. For an hour I stood and watched the guard and later the Changing of the Guard Ceremony. Others came and went, cameras whirred and buzzed and clicked.
When it was all done, I hugged two other Vets who also had tears in their eyes as they contemplated the meaning of Arlington and the beauty, simplicity and precision of the Changing of the Guard and two Army Wreath Ceremonies.
That twenty minutes with just a Soldier at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and myself will always be among the most precious moments of my life.
And I don’t need pictures of it. It is imprinted forever on my soul.