Holten: He who lies in state
Have you ever been to the Unknown Soldier’s tomb at Arlington Cemetery in Arlington, Va.? If not, you need to put it on your schedule. The changing of the guard there might be the most impressive thing this country has to offer, next to freedom.
You’ll never be more proud to be an American than when you see these soldiers perform. They’ve been guarding the tomb 24 hours a day, 365 days a year since 1937, nonstop, through storms and hurricanes, and they are loyalty, determination and precision personified. Check it out on YouTube or go there and see it in person. You won’t be disappointed.
I had an opportunity to witness them in action some years ago when, after visiting England — including Buckingham Palace, I stopped in Washington, D.C., to take in the sites. What I discovered was a nation that seemed, compared to Europe, like it was as new as a baby and shined a whole lot brighter. I also discovered some soldiers at the Unknown Soldier’s Tomb who were so robotic and impressive that they made the guards stationed at Buckingham Palace look sloppy and loose.
Recently on C-SPAN 3 they’ve been re-running the Nov. 25, 1963, NBC-TV coverage of the funeral of President John F. Kennedy. I recommend you watch it if you haven’t, especially if you’re younger than 50 years old.
You’ll witness a nation in shock and you’ll see an impressive array of young soldiers paying the ultimate respect to America and the leader it had just lost.
Part of that telecast shows President Kennedy’s flag-draped coffin as he lay in state in the U.S. Capitol rotunda. At the time, he was only the sixth president to have done so. Since then, a total of 10 presidents have done so and, in all, 18 bodies of non-presidents have lain in state in the U.S. Capitol rotunda, with Abraham Lincoln having been the first and Ronald Reagan being the last. It is interesting to note that each presidential casket has been placed on the same catafalque originally constructed for Lincoln.
The presidents who have lain in state other than Lincoln, Kennedy and Reagan are Garfield, McKinley, Harding, Taft, Hoover, Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson.
Others who have lain in state at the U.S. Capitol rotunda are:
— Thaddeus Stevens, Aug. 13-14, 1868. He was the anti-slavery leader of the House of Representatives and drafter of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
— Charles Sumner, March 13, 1874. He was anti-slavery leader of the U.S. Senate, and drafter of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
— Henry Wilson, Nov. 25-26, 1875. He was a senator and a vice president.
— John Alexander Logan, Dec. 30-31, 1886. He was a representative and senator, major general in the U.S Army during the Civil War and was the creator of Memorial Day.
— Pierre Charles L’Enfant, April 28, 1909. He was a major in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. He was also the designer of Washington, D.C. L’Enfant died penniless and alone on June 14, 1852, and his body was laid in state in the Capitol when it was reinterred in Arlington National Cemetery 57 years later.
— George Dewey, Jan. 20, 1917. He was an admiral in the U.S. Navy during the Spanish-American War.
— The Unknown Soldier, Nov. 9-11, 1921, U.S. military, World War I.
— John Joseph Pershing, July 18-19, 1948. He was the general of the armies of the U.S. during the Spanish-American War and the overall American commander in World War I.
— Robert Alphonso Taft, Aug. 2-3, 1953. He was a U.S. senator and son of President Howard Taft, and the first and only relative of another person who lay in state to be similarly honored.
— Unknown Soldier of World War II and Unknown Soldier of the Korean War, May 28-30, 1958.
— Douglas MacArthur, April 8-9, 1964. He was a general of the U.S. Army during World War I and World War II, and supreme commander in Japan/Korean War.
— Everett McKinley Dirksen, May 28-30, 1958. He was a congressman and senator for 36 years until his death.
— John Edgar Hoover, May 3-4, 1972. He was director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for 48 years until his death.
— Hubert Horatio Humphrey, Jan. 14-15, 1978. He was a senator and vice president.
— Unknown Soldier of the Vietnam Era, May 25-28, 1984.
— Claude Denson Pepper, June 1-2, 1989. He was a senator and representative.
I am guessing that most of these men had something in common with John F. Kennedy, who once said, “The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were.”
We live in a special place. Never forget that.
Holten is the manager of The Drill and writes a weekly column for The Dickinson Press. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.