WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Arlington National Cemetery is looking to honor our nation’s veterans in a historic way this Veterans Day.
For the first time in nearly a century, the normally-protected area surrounding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier will be open to the public. The sacred ground is protected 24/7 by the Old Guard but will allow members of the public to pay their respects this year.
“We’re gonna allow the public to walk across the plaza as a part of that stop and place a flower to honor and remember the unknowns,” Arlington National Cemetery Chief of Operations Dr. Gerald Lowe said.
Lowe has spent the last three years planning for the Centennial Commemoration, marking 100 years since the first unknown soldier was laid to rest. Since then, only the sentinels of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, or the Old Guard, have been allowed to walk next to the tomb.
“When you look back at the history and you look at the dedication from 1921 – especially the photos from 1921 – you’ll see those photos show the American public gathered about the tomb,” Lowe said. “So we’re not going to allow the public to gather about the tomb but in a sense – in a way – to bridge the past to the present, we want to enable the public to approach the tomb and be closer to the tomb.”
Two more unknown soldiers have been added since the first. The site has grown into a memorial visited by people from across the country.
Visitors can see the grave of the three unknown servicemembers up close on Nov. 9 and Nov. 10.
“That closeness creates connectedness and we want the public to be connected with this place, connected with this story,” Lowe said.
The event will happen rain or shine. The staff at Arlington National is preparing for a large turnout.
Lowe said anyone is welcome to attend, and that this isn’t just for military families.
“It really is a part of America’s story, American history, and we want everyone to take part in it,” Lowe added.
Arlington National Cemetery is encouraging people to register online, but the event itself is free.