Thursday, November 12, 2009

Haupt shares honor, history of guarding ‘the Unknowns’

By Michael Farrell -

DNA has eliminated the possibility of another unknown soldier, but there are still thousands of missing and unaccounted for veterans.

George Haupt, who served as an honor guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery, was the featured speaker at Wednesday's Veterans Day ceremony at the Grundy County Courthouse.

Haupt was a member of the Third Infantry Regiment, known as the Old Guard, which is stationed at Fort Myer, Va. As part of its duties, it provides the honor guards at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Dating from 1784, "it's the only regiment which can march with fixed bayonets," he said.  General Winfield Scott referred to it as the Old Guard in 1847, during the Mexican War.

The Tomb of the Unknowns was created by a resolution introduced on Dec. 21, 1920, by Rep. Hamilton Fish in the U.S. House to honor unknown casualties in a tomb at Arlington Cemetery. It was adopted on March 4, 1921.

Haupt said that, on Oct. 24, 1921, Sgt. Edward Younger walked around four coffins of unknown servicemen and placed a rose on the one that seemed to be calling out to him.

That unknown casualty from World War I was entombed on Nov. 11, 1921.

In 1932, Haupt said, the inscription, "Here rests in honored glory, an American Soldier Known only to God," was placed on the east side of the tomb.

Unknowns from World War II, Korea and the Vietnam War were also placed in the Tomb of the Unknown. Air Force Lt. Michael Blassie, from the Vietnam War, was later identified, removed from the tomb and buried in the St. Louis area.

Haupt said, with DNA, it is almost impossible for there to be another unknown.

However, he said, the are 84,166 missing and unaccounted for members of the armed forces, including 74,213 from World War II, 8,056 from Korea, 123 from the Cold War, 1,757 from Vietnam, and 17 from Desert Storm.

On Sept. 17, 1999, the Tomb was re-dedicated to those missing in action and prisoners of war.

"As a guard," Haupt said, "some people prayed, many cried, others walked near me and whispered thank you."

He said that was when he realized what an honor it was to be a tomb guard.

He said initially guards were only present during the day, but starting on July 2, 1937, guards were assigned 24 hours per day.

During the summer, he explained, guards are changed every 30 minute,  between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., to accommodate tourists. During the winter, guards are changed every hour during the day, while at night, the shift is two hours.

Haupt said the Tomb of the Unknowns is in Arlington National Cemetery, the third largest veterans cemetery in the United States. The largest is Calverton National Cemetery on Long Island, N.Y., followed by Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Ill.

In 1864, 200 acres was confiscated from the Custis family ( Mary Custis was the wife of Robert E. Lee) for unpaid taxes, then sold to the U. S. Government for $26,800. To ensure the family would never return, 16,000 Union casualties were buried on the property.

Within 40 feet of the mansion, there is the mass grave of 2,111 unknown confederate soldiers, he said.

Following an 1882 Supreme Court decision that the property had been improperly taken, the U. S. purchased the land for $150,000 from George Washington Custis Lee.

"He was a direct descendant of Robert E. Lee and a direct descendant of George Washington," Haupt said.

Arlington Cemetery now covers 624 acres, there have been more than 300,000 burials, and there are more than 7,000 burials each year.

Haupt concluded by reciting the Sentinels Creed:

"My dedication to this sacred duty is total and wholehearted. In the responsibility bestowed on me never will I falter. And with dignity and perseverance my standard will remain perfection.
Through the years of diligence and praise and the discomfort of the elements,
I will walk my tour."

Ken Buck, commander of American Legion Post 294, said while World War I ended with the signing of the Versailles Treaty on June 28, 1919, the fighting ceased with the armistice on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.

Armistice Day, and now Veterans Day, is celebrated each year on Nov. 11, regardless of the day of the week it falls, he said, to honor American veterans and their willingness to serve.

John Bush of the Morris VFW Post 6094, Elmo Ray Younger of the Disabled American Veterans and Associate Judge Lance Peterson made brief remarks.

The wreaths were placed by Julie Buck of the American Legion Auxiliary; Carol Baum of the Alida Bliss chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution; Diane Bush, Ladies of VFW Post 6049; and Jeannie Terando, representing the Gold Star Mothers.

The Morris Community High School Band played the National Anthem;  the Shabbona Band, "America on Parade;" and the Saratoga Band, "Armed Forces on Parade."

The Rev. Scott McClellan of the First United Methodist Church gave the invocation and benediction and Steve Huettemann played Taps.