Chuck, the rascal cat, did not grow up wanting to be a soldier cat.
He does not know that much about history.
But every night when we’re home, he plasters himself on the rug in front of the television and watches the news.
He knows about Arlington National Cemetery and the eternal flame that burns for President John F. Kennedy.
I shouldn’t have been surprised when one day he pointed with his paw to an article about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
That is how Chuckie usually communicates with us.
He wanted to see the ceremony.
And with Armed Forces Day coming up, and Memorial Day just around the corner, I thought what better way to honor our soldiers and pay tribute, than to visit this special place.
From our hotel in Washington, D.C., we took the subway and then walked the rest of the way to Arlington National Cemetery. At the cemetery we purchased a ticket for the shuttle bus service that rides you around to all the key sights, otherwise it would take hours to walk from sight to sight.
On our way to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, I told Chuck that other countries in the world have their own Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as a way to honor all the soldiers who fight in battle and yet cannot be identified when the war is over. In fact, it’s key to the concept of this monument that the body buried within the tomb be unidentifiable so that the tomb can maintain its symbolic meaning.
The soldier buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is there to represent all the soldiers who fought and were never found after the war was over.
“Did you get that, Chuck?”
I can never be sure, but he tilted his head in his usual Chuck fashion and we moved closer to the area where the soldiers go through the ceremony.
There is always a crowd.
On the day we were there, a small group of high school students presented the uniformed soldiers with a wreath to be laid on the tomb. Approximately eighty tourists stood in respectful silence, watching, as the soldiers followed a very precise pattern of marching back and forth in front of the tomb. It was both elegant and precise.
My usually antsy Chuck went perfectly still as he peeked out of my smart bag. He watched the soldiers perform their set maneuvers. The entire ceremony lasted only a few minutes, but it was filled with emotion.
Maybe, as you stand there in the cemetery, surrounded by thousands of gravestones, the reality gets to you.
Each gravestone represents a wounded warrior.
A man and woman who gave his or her life selflessly for their country.
For our country.
To maintain our way of life.
When the ceremony was over, I showed Chuck how to salute the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“It is a sign of respect,” I said.
Although Chuck usually hates to be told what to do, he didn’t fight me this time.
The rascal cat saluted the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
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