Tom Tudor presented a lecture on “Arlington and the Tomb of the Unknown Solider” on November 14, 2017 at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan. For the past 25 years, Tudor has traveled to lecture on Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Tudor served as a sentinel and relief commander at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from February 1969 to Memorial Day of 1970. He is the past President and Board Member of the Society of the Honor Guard – Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Tudor opened the lecture expressing gratitude for having the opportunity to serve as a sentinel and relief commander at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which he described as a gift. Tudor gave details on the role performed by Tomb Guards of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment called “The Old Guard” and the requirements placed upon sentinels during and after their term. Tudor provided the historical background for the Arlington National Cemetery property and how the U.S. government ultimately acquired the property in 1882.
Tudor chronicled several facts and historical events on Arlington National Cemetery including that the land was originally part of the estate of Mary Anna Custis Lee, wife of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and great-granddaughter of Martha Washington; the first military burial occurred in 1864; that marble headstones were selected for use in all national cemeteries by the U.S. Congress in 1873 because Arlington’s headstones were originally painted wood that only lasted for up to five years; General Montgomery C. Meigs’ burial of unknown Union (which more than likely also included Confederate) soldiers’ bones in Mary Anna Custis Lee’s rose garden, as a way to get back at General Lee for fighting for the Confederacy; President Calvin Coolidge’s order in 1925 to have the Tomb of the Unknown guarded by U.S. Army; the U.S. Army posting a 24-hour guard in 1937; interment of Korean and World War II unknown soldiers in 1958, and interment of Vietnam War soldiers in 1984; and insight into plot Section 60 that includes soldiers killed in action from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Tudor gave details on his own background that led him to “walking the mat” at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Tudor provided pictures and details of the service duties of Tomb Guard sentinels and relief commander. Tudor then closed the first part of the lecture reciting The Sentinel’s Creed.
In the second part of the lecture, Tudor highlighted the stories of several people buried at Arlington National Cemetery that included veterans from every war from the Revolutionary War to present day. Tudor showed pictures of a few notable gravestones placed in Arlington National Cemetery including: Washington D.C. architect and Revolutionary War soldier Pierre Charles L’Enfant; Revolutionary War Officer James McCubbin Lingan; Engineer and career U.S. Army officer Horatio Wright; builder of Arlington House George Washington Parke Custis; President Abraham Lincoln’s eldest son Robert Todd Lincoln; President, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Taft; the eternal flame of President John F. Kennedy; First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis; Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy; Union Generals Philip Sheridan, Philip Kearny, Abner Doubleday, and Montgomery Meigs; Spanish-American War Colonel and three time Presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan; Supreme Court Chief Justices Earl Warren, Warren Burger, and William Rehnquist; Supreme Court Justices Oliver Wendall Holmes, Hugo Black, and Thurgood Marshall; World War II veteran and civil rights leader Medgar Evers; discoverer of North Pole Robert Peary; World War I General of the Armies John Pershing; three of the six World War II soldiers depicted in the Iwo Jima Memorial Michael Strank, Rene Gagnon and Ira Hayes; and World War II veterans James Doolittle, William Mauldin, Glen Miller, Joe Louis, Lee Marvin, Audie Murphy, Walter Reed, John Glenn, Omar Bradley, and George Marshall, among others.
At the end of the presentation, Tudor returned to a picture of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and stated that it will “always be a special place to all Americans whose loved ones never returned home from war.” Tudor concluded the lecture answering questions from the audience.