Alton Webteam: November 2015
We will remember them — address given by Revd Keith Underhill at the Cairn on Remembrance Sunday 2015.
Perhaps one of the world's most famous cemeteries is the one that is found at Arlington in Washington D.C.
It is at Arlington that J.F.K is buried and there an eternal flame burns continuously in his memory.
The memorial to the NASA astronauts who died on board the space shuttles Colombia and Challenger are also found there.
But above all Arlington Cemetery is the place where the American war dead are buried and honoured.
And we were fortunate enough to visit it earlier this year
We saw the iconic statue of the US marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima and the thousands of graves of individual men and women who fought for their country and paid the ultimate price — but for me the most poignant and moving site was the changing of the guards at the tomb of the unknown soldier.
The changing of the guard is an elaborate, well-drilled and rehearsed ritual.
An impeccably dressed commander appears to announce the Changing of the Guard. Soon the new guard appears and unlocks the bolt of their rifle to signal the start the ceremony.
The commander conducts a detailed white-glove inspection of the rifle. Then, the commander and the new guard meet the retiring guard at the center of the matted path in front of the Tomb.
All three salute the Unknown. Then the commander orders the retiring guard, "Pass on your orders." The retiring guard shouts, "Post and orders, remain as directed." The newly guard replies, "Orders acknowledged," and steps into position on the black mat.
When the commander passes by, the new guard begins walking at a cadence of 90 steps per minute.
He marches 21 steps down the black mat behind the Tomb, turns, faces east for 21 seconds, turns and faces north for 21 seconds, then takes 21 steps down the mat and repeats the process.
After the turn, the guard executes a sharp "shoulder-arms" movement to place the weapon on his shoulder closest to the visitors to signify that he stands between the Tomb and any possible threat.
It is an impressive display.
The thing is though, that when the tourists have gone home, when the visitors have left, when nobody is around, this ceremony, this constant guard at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier continues.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in all weathers.
In torrential rain, in blazing heat and in the deepest of snows, the vigil is kept.
When others are at home eating their thanksgiving turkeys, or are gathered together to celebrate Christmas, those who are still guarding the tomb continue their 21 steps and the clockwork routine — it never stops, the guard itself and the honour it gives are constant, never ending.
It is a perpetual reminder to what has been and the cost that was paid by so many, especially by those who are still unknown.
This cairn likewise, is a constant reminder of those who fought and died that we might live in freedom. It is a perpetual reminder not only of those whose names are inscribed upon it, but also of all those who have died in war, known and unknown to us — but all known to God, His sons and daughters.
Today we gather, today we lay our wreaths and today we focus our attention.
Even when we forget, even when we are caught up in the busyness of life and of the multifarious demands of the day to day, our Cairn stands tall, day in and day out.
In torrential rain, in blazing heat and in the deepest of snows, our cairn keeps its vigil.
As we gather around our tables to eat our Christmas dinners, as we sunbath in the park or go sledging in flood meadows, our cairn remains proud and in doing so prompts us as we drive past, or as we walk down into town, to pause, to reflect and to remember.
Today we do all three, we pause, we reflect and we remember. This ceremony is an opportunity to focus on that which is an ever present reality, that those who died (known and unknown) laid down their lives for a better, more just and peaceful world.
We owe it to them and to our children, and to all those who are yet to come, to strive for peace, for justice, for understanding and for tolerance, so that men and women do not have to go to war or fight anymore.
This cairn is a reminder of that and a sign that we must never forget and that we will remember them.
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