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Along with millions of other people, this past Wednesday, Jan. 20, saw me in front of the television to witness history.
With a list of other tasks to complete, I was in and out of the living room until I saw the line of black SUV’s as they snaked their way through Arlington Cemetery on the way to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Visiting Washington with my family in 1992, we were fortunate to witness the changing of the guard at the tomb, which occurs on an hourly basis.
Following the example of our Allies, and in response to public sentiment, Congress finally approved funds for a memorial to honor the unknown who died during World War I.
President Woodrow Wilson gave approval for the Tomb on the last day of his presidency, March 4, 1921.
The first guard placed at the tomb on Nov. 17, 1925, was a civilian guard whose job it was to keep folks from having picnics at the monument.
Replaced by a military guard, the crack 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as “The Old Guard,” became the official guards in 1948.
This special platoon rotates 24 hours on and 24 hours off.
Twenty-one symbolizes the highest honor of a 21-gun salute.
At his post, the sentinel crosses the walkway in exactly 21 steps. He turns to face the tomb for 21 seconds, turns again, pausing an additional 21 seconds, then retraces his steps.
Their weapon is held on the soldier’s shoulder closest to visitors to signify the guard stands between the tomb and possible threats.
Should any disruption occur, the soldier will stop and begin his vigil only when quiet is restored.
The inscription on the tomb reads, “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”
As I was watching the ceremony of laying of the wreath, I remembered that Judy Steiner had told me that her dad, John Bunyard, was a member of the honor guard and had to take so many steps a minute.
John William Bunyard was born 26 May 1915 on the bluffs of the Kaskaskia River, on the Bunyard Farm, two miles south of Vandalia.
He enlisted in the Army and was stationed at Washington, D.C., where he was a cook (learning how to make the best milk gravy).
Upon returning to Fayette County, John married Ruby Jane Hayes, and they lived in the Hagarstown area, where he farmed and made some of the best homemade sausage I had ever tasted.
John was a farmer for many years and an active member of the American Legion, where he was a member of the color guard. This is when my dad began his friendship with John.
Both men were veterans of World War II, and marched in veteran parades and officiated at veteran burials as long as they were able.
Judy said that following a 1970 car accident, injuring his arm, her dad was no longer able to perform the gun salute.
John passed away on Dec. 19, 1989, leaving a lasting legacy of service to his nation.