As Memorial Day approaches, I am reminded of the privilege I have had to visit Arlington National Cemetery, and, while there, witness the very moving experience of the Changing of the Guard. For me, it is almost as if time stands still during this emotional ceremony as those gathered pay their respects to this unknown American soldier. As David Alan Harvey writes in Where Valor Rests: Arlington National Cemetery, “for every minute of every day since July 2, 1937, a uniformed sentinel has marched an unvarying, gliding march in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a 79-ton marble sarcophagus erected in 1921 to honor all American service members ‘Known but to God.’”
This time-honored and elaborate ceremony is steeped in military tradition and occurs every hour on the hour from October 1 through March 31, and every half hour from April 1 through September 30. Twenty-four hours a day these Tomb Guards, also known as The Old Guard or Sentinels, watch over the tomb. These guards are chosen for this prestigious and highly selective post only after rigorous training and demanding examinations. Their duty is a sacred one held since 1948 only by soldiers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment.
This distinguished ceremony is significant for not only those unidentified service members who lost their lives, but also for all men and women who have served and made sacrifices in service to their nation. As early 20th century New York Congressman and World War I veteran Hamilton Fish, Jr. once wrote, this “unknown American warrior … represents no section, creed, or race in the late war and … typifies, moreover, the soul of America and the supreme sacrifice of her heroic dead.”
Just across the Potomac River in our nation’s capital is another moving memorial to our military service members – the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, sometimes referred to as The Wall.
Several years ago, I wrote an article about my father’s experience in reconnecting with the family of his fellow Marine from Ohio, whose name, Richard Allen Moore, is inscribed on panel 33W – line 21 of this wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Moore was killed in action after being struck by sniper fire on January 30, 1969, while on patrol in South Vietnam. In addition to visiting this Memorial to pay my respects to Lance Corporal Moore as well as the over 58,000 other veterans whose names are inscribed on that Wall, I also visited TheWall-USA.com, an online memorial created in 1996 by the late Alan Oskvarek, a disabled Vietnam Vet, as a tribute to the deceased and missing from Vietnam. While reading the memorial tributes on Lance Corporal Moore’s virtual tribute page, one special dedication caught my eye. This dedication was written by Navy Corpsman Stan Gerding, who, while serving as a medic during the Vietnam War, held Moore in his arms as he passed. As my father also served with Moore in the jungles of Vietnam, I knew Corpsman Gerding had to have shared in this tragedy with my father at the same time and in the same faraway place.
Upon researching, I learned that Navy Corpsman Stan Gerding had written a book, entitled The Nam “Doc”: A Navy Corpsman’s Story, which chronicled the author’s tour in Vietnam with the Marines “from the eyes of a medical person who was there strictly to save lives and patch up the wounded.” I knew that this book would also serve, in part, as an account of my father’s experiences while serving in Vietnam as a United States Marine. I soon reached out to Gerding and inquired if he remembered my dad, who passed in 2013. He quickly replied, “I am not good with remembering names but I am very good at remembering details of that tour in ‘Nam. When I looked up your dad’s obituary, I saw his picture and, yes, I do remember him as a fun-loving guy and a real, true hero in all aspects of that title.”
I am sharing this story to illustrate how the power of books, such as Gerding’s personal account, can connect people across time and distance. Your local library has an extensive military history collection for you to browse upon your next visit. Newly added titles to this collection include:
Valcour : the 1776 campaign that saved the cause of liberty by Kelly, Jack;
Eagle Down : the last special forces fighting the forever war by Donati, Jessica;
First Platoon : a story of modern war in the age of identity dominance by Jacobsen, Annie;
The Gun, the Ship, and the Pen : warfare, constitutions, and the making of the modern world by Colley, Linda;
The Road Less Traveled : the secret battle to end the Great War, 1916-1917 by Zelikow, Philip;
On the plains in ‘65 : the 6th West Virginia Volunteer Cavalry in the West by Holliday, Geo. H. (George Hayes).
I also encourage you to take advantage of the thousands of eBooks and audiobooks available for download through the Ohio Digital Library and Hoopla Digital. For more information on these services, please contact the Library at 740-446-7323 or visit bossardlibrary.org.
As we take time to pause and remember those who have served, I encourage you to explore the shelves of your local library to learn more about the people, places, and events upon which the foundation of our country’s freedoms are built.
Debbie Saunders, MLIS, is library director for the Dr. Samuel L. Bossard Memorial Library.