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While Washington D.C. may be the center of freedom in Western civilization, just across the Potomac River is a stark and somber reminder of the price that was paid for the institutions on the other side.
Fittingly standing guard to the world’s beacon of freedom and prosperity is Arlington National Cemetery, the final resting place of hundreds of thousands of men and women who devoted their lives to the service of their nation.
And standing watch over them is one of the most disciplined units of the United States military, the “Old Guard” Third US Infantry Regiment.
This unit was the subject of a book by Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) entitled “Sacred Duty: A Soldier’s Tour of Arlington Cemetery.”
Cotton shared several anecdotes from his book during an interview on The Todd Starnes Radio Show.
Starnes was particularly intrigued with a chapter that detailed how the flags are set up at the cemetery for Memorial Day.
The senator said that once a soldier starts putting flags in a row of headstones, they have to put them on the entire row. The soldiers use their boots to space the flag from the headstone, thus creating a perfect spacing for the entire line.
“That’s the secret of how they get all this flags symmetrical,” he said.
Cotton said that the Old Guard might do as many as 20-30 funerals per day, but each one of them has to be just perfect, because each family doesn’t get a do-over and it is a unique experience for each family.
In April 2018 I had the opportunity to have that unique experience, as my grandfather, Lt. Col. Robert Dale Poff, a decorated Vietnam Air Force pilot was laid to rest at Arlington Cemetery.
It is a day that I will remember for the rest of my life. In a time were rituals are derided as archaic and superficial showy events, I see the need for them. They are a necessary part of our cultural heritage that represent respect for the life lived and the service of men like my grandfather.
Senator Cotton noted as much saying that he hoped his book would help Americans come away with “a renewed sense of respect and reverence and even love for all the soldiers who laid down their life in defense of our nation.”
The Arkansas senator related a story of how a foreign military leader found that same respect when told about the Old Guard by Sergeant Major Dan Daly while he was looking out over the headstones from the window of the car.
“Sergeant Major Daly was explaining about Arlington and the old guard’s mission to honor our fallen heroes” Cotton said. “And without looking back from the window the dignitary said to him, I understand now why your soldiers fight so hard to treat your dead better than we treat our living.”