Wreath-laying events at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier are one of America’s most iconic acts of patriotism. It’s only fitting that a Venturer, Sea Scout, Cub Scout and Scouts BSA member got to participate in one such ceremony this week as part of the Report to the Nation.
They also got a very rare behind-the-scenes look at the process, visiting with a member of the regiment that guards the tomb.
“It was a very beautiful experience, and something I never would have gotten to do if it weren’t for this trip,” says 19-year-old Venturer Salma Lfarh.
Salma is one of 15 delegates currently participating in Report to the Nation, the BSA’s annual trip to Washington, D.C. Their purpose is to share BSA success stories from the last year with members of Congress. They’re more than halfway through what has already been a fantastic week, meeting with a variety of BSA supporters on Capitol Hill.
The experience at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery has definitely left its mark.
“It was an absolute honor to have the opportunity to do that,” says 19-year-old Sea Scout Brent Peate. “I’ve done a lot of ceremonial stuff, but to do it on those grounds was very exciting. To honor all of our unknown fallen was really an incredible opportunity.”
What is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier?
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was established in 1921 as the final resting place for one of America’s unidentified World War I service members. A second unknown soldier was buried there in 1958, and a third in 1984.
In addition to serving as a symbolic grave for all war dead whose remains have not been found or identified, it’s also a place of mourning and a site for reflection on the value of military service.
“It was very inspiring,” says 17-year-old Scouts BSA member Owen Braniff. “It was great to honor those who have fallen while serving our country.”
Only four people are allowed to participate in a single wreath-laying ceremony. Salma, Brent and Owen were joined by 9-year-old Cub Scout Shyam Nagaraja, as the rest of the delegates watched from the viewing area.
Under the guidance of a soldier from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as “The Old Guard,” the four of them walked the wreath out to the stand where it would be placed.
“I got to actually hold the wreath and put it into place,” says Shyam.
Then, they saluted, as an Army bugler played taps.
“My parents are Moroccan, so I had never been to a funeral in this type of culture,” says Salma. “It was my first experience at how beautiful it is to honor those who served our country.”
A behind-the-scenes look
In addition to laying the wreath in front of the public, the Scouts also got a behind-the-scenes tour of the barracks used by the Old Guard.
Entering an area that not many people get to see, they were struck by the discipline and attention to detail of soldiers preparing to do their duty.
“Everything is managed to the millimeter,” says Owen. “Everything is very succinct, very well organized.
“A lot of them were shining their shoes. It just really showed their attention to detail.”
They also had the opportunity to witness the changing of the guard.
“We got to see how they prepare, see how they get ready to do their walk,” says Brent. “They showed us different parts of their uniform. They keep it immaculate.”
The Scouts presented one guard with a Report to the Nation coin and a neckerchief tied into a friendship knot.
“It was very, very special,” says Brent.