Friday, May 9, 2014

A Solemn Occasion and Some Other Not so Solemn Stuff

Off we went on the Metro to visit Arlington's finest. Sparky had no idea how hilly the national cemetery was….nor how beautiful it was…The cherry trees were HUGE!

We went to see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Changing of the Guard and John F. Kennedy's grave….

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier…So many people have written about the rituals and ceremonies of the changing of the guard, we hope we won't bore you with the details that are commonly known, but Sparky will share what SHE didn't know about it, in case it's something new to you…There is a bunch of stuff out on the internet that is totally not true, like the guards can't talk to anybody their first two months of duty so they can study who's buried in Arlington Cemetery and know where they are located, and that they can't drink alcohol or swear the rest of their lives or they have to give up their "wreath pin". That's a bunch of hooey! So here's some TRUE blue :-) stuff about the guards and what we saw the day we visited….We were TWO FEET AWAY from the guard's shift change ceremony.

An impeccably uniformed relief commander appears on the plaza to announce the Changing of the Guard. Soon the new sentinel leaves the Quarters and unlocks the bolt of his or her M-14 rifle to signal to the relief commander to start the ceremony. The relief commander walks out to the Tomb and salutes, then faces the spectators and asks them to stand and stay silent during the ceremony.

The relief commander conducts a detailed white-glove inspection of the weapon, checking each part of the rifle once. 

This was quite the ceremony. As the relief commander inspected the gun, it was with great precision and orchestrated movements. He didn't just look at it, check the chamber, etc. He was like one of those traffic cops who orchestrate traffic with elaborately fine tuned, smoothest of silk hand movements that could be put to music. Ever see one of those? It was amazing to watch the commander coordinate the inspection with such fine movements of his hands. The gun moved just in increments. His hands moved in precise increments. You could see that he does this with the same precision each and every guard change just as the guards measure and time their steps. As the new guard comes in and gets his weapon inspected, then turns around and prepares to start walking his guard duty, we saw the commander reach behind and give a gentle tug at the coat pleat of the soldier in front of him, which to our eyes appeared to be perfect already, but apparently it wasn't laying just right. Everything has to be just PERFECT and perfectly timed. This was unusual to see, to say the least.

Then, the relief commander and the relieving sentinel meet the retiring sentinel at the center of the matted path in front of the Tomb. All three salute the Unknowns who have been symbolically given the Medal of Honor. Then the relief commander orders the relieved sentinel, "Pass on your orders." The current sentinel commands, "Post and orders, remain as directed." The newly posted sentinel replies, "Orders acknowledged," and steps into position on the black mat. When the relief commander passes by, the new sentinel begins walking at a cadence of 90 steps per minute.

The Tomb Guard marches 21 steps down the black mat behind the Tomb, turns, faces east for 21 seconds, turns and faces north for 21 seconds, then takes 21 steps down the mat and repeats the process. After the turn, the sentinel executes a sharp "shoulder-arms" movement to place the weapon on the shoulder closest to the visitors to signify that the sentinel stands between the Tomb and any possible threat. Twenty-one was chosen because it symbolizes the highest military honor that can be bestowed -- the 21-gun salute.

Of course this was VERY moving…

Arlington is a BEAUTIFUL cemetery with much to see and explore. It's quite the hike and elevation from the bottom of the hill to the top where the Changing of the Guard takes place. Sparky got a good workout today from climbing to the top. It was well worth it!  There is a trolley you can take if you are not up to the walk. The buildings'architecture is just beautiful….

And there are many famous grave sites to visit…John F. Kennedy's grave is not to be missed…..

And now for the disclaimer…Sparky means NO disrespect on coupling of the Changing of the Guard ceremony with the following DC Metro report. She just decided to make this one blog post instead of two little short posts.

On the way back, we took the D.C. Metro, a terrific subway system from an out of towner's viewpoint. Sparky is sure the locals probably don't agree….Now you need to know there is D.C. Metro etiquette to be followed on the escalators up and down from street level to the subway level. You stay on the far right side steps of the escalator going up or down if you are simply going to stand and let the escalator move you. The left lane of the escalator steps are for people in a HURRY!--They will be taking the steps as fast as they can, hurrying to get wherever they are going--and you'd better stay out of the way. Nothing makes a local madder than to have gawking tourists blocking the escalator so they can't zoom downstairs or upstairs to get where they are going. Sparky made the mistake of standing in the middle of the escalator steps when she first started using the Metro's escalators, and Sparky, JR. quickly pointed out how this works. 

You also need to know that Washington, D.C. is not a city full of stuffy lobbyists and lawmakers with no sense of humor. No, siree…There might be a lot wrong with Washington's politics, but DC Metro riders know how to have fun! Once a year, subway riders sport and support "NO PANTS SUBWAY RIDE DAY". Yep, you heard that right. If you really want to blend in, you don't wear pants riding the metro that day. And a LOT of people participate!
courtesy of the internet, Sparky did NOT take this photo!
You bring pants just in case any authority figure asks you to put them on, but for the most part, everybody knows that it's No Pants Day and you dress the top of you normally, and hopefully, put on your best skivvies or boxers or prettiest undies and act nonchalantly, like you do this on a regular basis. And by the way, there are party stops along the way…..Sparky is not making this up. This year's No Pants Day was in January! Here's a link just in case you think she is! 

The idea of the ride, according to Facebook, “is to appear as if you had no idea that you were missing pants or that you knew but didn’t think it was a big deal.”
Organizers advise participants to keep pants on your person but hidden in a bag or backpack.
“If any figure of authority tells you to put your pants back on, do as they say,” the event page says. “Unfortunately indecency laws are entirely subjective and while we haven’t had any major problems in the past, we’d like to keep on DC Metro’s good side so the event can continue for years to come.”
Way to go, D.C.! What a great town! Sparky thoroughly enjoyed her visit there, and hopes to be back some time for No Pants Day. And NO, Eldo, Sparky is NOT going to participate! (WHEW! says a relieved E.) Bye for now.


  1. Wow! The trees look much pinker than when we were there. We just got back a couple of weeks ago. And your weather must be really nice. It Nice pictures.

  2. No Pants day is a RIOT!. I cannot believe that. In January? Seriously? It was colder than a.......... this year in January. Too Funny. I'm gonna ask my Carrie about that for sure. She rides the train from Laurel every day to downtown DC.

  3. You captured the drama of watching the changing of the guard at the National Cemetery quite well. You were also lucky to be in D.C during cherry blossom time!

    The No Pants Day was a new one to hear about. Quite a contrast to your more somber topic.

  4. what a lovely beautiful place. . .

    the no pants day. . .not so much. . .LOL!


  5. We hope to get to Arlington someday..... as for the No Pants Day....ummm not for me to partake.... but what a hoot to see!

    Karen and Steve
    (Blog) RVing: The USA Is Our Big Backyard

  6. Lol, no pants day. Least they don't take themselves seriously. We went to the changing of the guard one time, and my Mom dropped her lens cap on the camera, making lots of noise... oops!

  7. Arlington is a very special place. I have attended several services there and they are always impressive and somber at the same time.