From left, Loryn Hudson, Cameron Hall, Mark Torres and Jude Rios laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Profound Event Puts History in Perspective
By Suzanne Featherston | June 1, 2017
Four Texas students stride down the steps before the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Being watched by more than 100 of their peers and other spectators makes them nervous, but the four focus on the honorable task they’ve been singled out to perform.
In front are Mark Torres and Loryn Hudson, followed by Cameron Hall and Jude Rios. They’re experiencing an event that puts their lives in perspective with the history of this nation.
All are here because they won places on the 2016 Government-in-Action Youth Tour through their electric cooperatives. Of the 127 Texas students sponsored on Youth Tour that June, they applied and were selected to take part in a wreath-laying ceremony.
This formal act recognizes the unidentified who died while serving in the U.S. military. The tomb site contains the remains of unknown service members from World War I, World War II and the Korean War. Presidents, foreign dignitaries and organizations, including Texas Electric Cooperatives since the 1960s, have partaken in this patriotic ritual.
“It felt pretty extraordinary knowing that you’re one of the very few people that is able to cross the line to place the wreath,” Torres says.
As tradition dictates, the students follow the guidance of a soldier from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as The Old Guard. On his cue, they march toward the tomb in silence. Torres and Hudson take a red, white and blue wreath from another soldier and place it before the white sarcophagus, inscribed with this tribute: “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”
For the students, the ceremony makes real the sacrifice of many U.S. service members in securing the nation’s freedom. Fellow Americans died for it, and, under different circumstances, the remains in that tomb could have belonged to any of their own loved ones who served in the military.
Torres, whose uncle fought in the Vietnam War and died from leukemia as a result of exposure to chemical warfare, says he felt “sad because I know there are a lot of soldiers that have gone missing in action or haven’t returned to their family. And [I] also felt sad because my own relatives have died of war or the side effects of war. And I felt happy because I was doing something to honor my family.”
Hudson’s great-grandfather served in the Air Force. “I’d love to honor my great-grandfather by honoring, through the process, those he served with, looked up to, and inspired,” she wrote in her application essay. “I loved Gramps just like the soldiers in The Tomb were loved in their lifetimes.”
Hall’s grandfather also served in the Air Force. At his funeral, an honor guard presented the family with a folded American flag. The gesture made an impression on Hall, who says he respects customs to remember the fallen. Out of respect, he wore his Eagle Scout uniform for the ceremony. “Just as they [the soldiers] had a uniform and were representing the military and America,” he says, “I wanted to represent the youths of America.”
Both of Rios’ grandfathers served in the military. He called them as soon as he found out he had been selected to participate in the ceremony. “They were really proud,” he says. “Not everyone is as lucky as my two grandfathers. I knew I had to give all of them my respect.”
After laying the wreath at the tomb, Hall saluted, and the remaining three young Americans placed their hands on their hearts to the solemn call of taps.