September 6, 2004

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Arlington, Va. -- For the first time ever, soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery were given permission to leave their post at the Tomb of the Unknowns if Hurricane Isabel became too dangerous.

None left.

"We made the decision we were going to stand where we were," said Army Sgt. 1st Class Fredrick Geary, 37.

Around the clock each day for about two hours at a time, seven soldiers take turns manning the tomb where the first Unknown Soldier was buried in 1921. But on Thursday night, during the height of the storm, Sgt. of the Guard Geary took it upon himself to march for 5-1/2 hours before the tomb against heavy rain and 60 mph wind gusts.

The wind was so strong that it felled at least 24 trees on cemetery grounds, most more than 20 years old. In turn, three headstones were crushed. Crews began working at 4 a.m. Friday to clean up the 612 acres scattered with downed trees and limbs. The tombstones could be replaced within two weeks, officials say.

Looking at the tomb on Friday, Geary, who led the charge to stay, choked up: "Did they volunteer? Did they get drafted? How did they die? They did their job and this country paid them back by not remembering who they were. We have a job to do here and at no time was a life in danger.

"It was my life. I was just doing what I believed to be right."

Posted by Ted at September 6, 2004 9:31 PM