As the last notes of “Taps” echoed off the stones of the Tomb of the Unknowns today, service members representing the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard and veterans from World War II and the Korean War slowly dropped their salutes.
Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Michael Stevens steps forward to pin a medallion representing the Navy on a wreath honoring members of the armed forces during Armed Forces Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, May 16, 2016. DoD photo by Shannon Collins
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.Tour groups of people visiting Arlington National Cemetery witnessed the changing of the guard, followed by honor guards from each of the service branches marching up in file and rendering honors as the colors were posted.
Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan B. Battaglia, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was joined by all five senior enlisted service advisors in a wreath-laying ceremony at the tomb to mark the 65th annual Armed Forces Day. Afterward, the U.S. Army Concert Band performed patriotic music at a free concert.
‘We Celebrate … with the Fallen’
The wreath will be on display for the day at the Tomb of the Unknowns to honor those who gave the last full measure, “but Armed Forces Day honors all service members past and present,” Battaglia said.
“We celebrate Armed Forces Day with the fallen,” the sergeant major said.
“What better place for us to thank those who played such an integral role in protecting America’s freedom and liberty? Like many national burial grounds across the globe, here are harbored and housed America’s heroes, the hundreds of thousands of men and women who have, for more than 240 years, proudly and courageously worn the cloth of our nation,” he said.
“At Arlington today, we are encircled by those brave and courageous men and women, past and present, active, reserve and National Guard, living veterans and our fallen, all who have proudly served and continue to serve our country,” Battaglia said.
For Marine Corps veteran Brian Long, who served four years as a mortarman during the Beirut Conflict with the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines, Armed Forces Day was a reunion with his unit and with Battaglia.
“I haven’t seen this group of Marines since 1980,” said the former sergeant. “It was an opportunity to renew some acquaintances and regain some familiarity. [Battaglia] worked for me as a young lance corporal, and 35 years later, he’s the senior enlisted advisor. We’re very proud of him.”
Long said he was honored to be at the event because he has had a member of his family serve in the armed forces in one conflict or another since World War I through Vietnam and into Afghanistan and Iraq.
“My father was a World War II veteran,” he said. “We lost him a number of years ago, but he was a [prisoner of war] who fought in Europe. It’s special to be here surrounded by what it means to be an American and to be able to share this with brothers from all of the armed forces. It’s an honor to be here for Armed Forces Day.”
Vietnam veteran Clifford Barnes arrived at Arlington via an Honor Flight from Austin, Texas. He served in the Army for 41 years and said the event was indescribable.
“You just can’t describe what it feels like to be here,” he said. “The hair on the back of my neck was standing up. I was getting butterflies. I really enjoyed it. It brought back all of the worthwhile things I’ve done.”
An Opportunity to Educate the Public
Army Sgt. 1st Class Steven Ogbuehi, a power station sergeant at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, said he was honored to attend the event as well.
He said events such as Arlington’s Armed Forces Day ceremony are important, “especially to educate our public, give them an opportunity to see some of the activities we do every day, even if it’s just a ceremony like the one today.”
The ceremony made an impression on Kensi Gray, 14, from the Concord Christian School tour group out of Knoxville, Tennessee.
“I thought it was amazing,” she said. “The discipline they had was incredible, staying out there in the sun and staying completely still. They must have had a lot of practice to be able to do that.”
She said she was surprised at seeing all of the different uniforms and enjoyed seeing the veterans rendering their salutes. She also said armed forces should be recognized.
“People give their lives for us every day. The least we can do is honor them in this way,” Gray said.