Sam Askew, Campus Carrier managing editor
Katelynn Singleton, Campus Carrier editor-in-chief
On Monday, the Spires at Berry College hosted the Rome Exchange Club’s replica of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a monument honoring all unidentified American soldiers who have died at war. It was erected in 1921 and the replica, made of wood, was built in 2021 for the 100-year anniversary of the original Tomb’s construction.
The replica was created in Rome by Burkhalter Construction, and was painted, engraved and sculpted by Rome artist, Chuck Schmult. The replica is half scale compared to the original, which is constructed of 56 tons of marble from Colorado.
Mike Elliot is a Volunteer Field Representative with the Rome Exchange Club. He outlined the four parts of the Club: Americanism, which had the idea for the replica, Working with Seniors, Youth Programs, and a national project to prevent child abuse.
“[The] Americanism committee met a couple years ago and said, ‘Let’s do a tomb for the 100th anniversary,’” Elliot said.
One of the members of the Exchange Club, Phillip Burkhalter, took on the task of building the replica.
“One of the things [the builder] said was ‘Who’s gonna move it?’ and we said ‘Four old men,’ so he put wheels inside,” Elliot said.
So far, the replica has been to 38 states.
“We’re hoping that [viewers of the replica] understand why they have the freedom they have and the cost that it cost us and that they appreciate what our veterans have done and what the people in the armed forces have done,” Elliot said.
The real Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is guarded 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. Guards, called Sentinels, go through 9 months of training and must come from the Third Infantry, the oldest active-duty unit in the U.S. Army.
Sentinels are issued the “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Guard Identification Badge,” which is the third least-awarded badge in the United States Army. Only 688 individuals have earned it. The badge features the same figures as are on the East side of the Tomb: the figures of Peace, Valor and Victory. The badge also includes an inverted wreath as a sign of mourning.
Larry Cooper, a former Sentinel who holds badge number 58, attends some of the replica showcases.
Cooper’s first time on the Sentinel mat was February 1967 during the 7 a.m. Changing of the Guard ceremony.
“We’re just paying respect to these unknowns that’ve given it all,” Cooper said. “It was an experience every time I went up there. I’ve figured roughly I was up there 1000 times, and the last time was just as fascinating as the first.”
Sentinels always stand watch, regardless of the weather or time of day. During the Summer, guards are changed every 30 minutes, and every hour during the winter. The guards have specific uniforms depending on the weather, but Cooper has experienced his fair share of sudden weather changes.
“My mom and dad only came up one time, on a Saturday, and they got lost and they got there at the last guard change,” Cooper said. “This Saturday, its humid, hot, and I was on the mat at 6 o’clock guard change and I just happened to look out and I saw my mom and dad up on the sidewalk. [The relief commander] goes through the procedure of guard change, and he says “Post,” and there was a crack of thunder that just rattled the whole area. [Because of the rain] everybody got wet, and I stayed up there an hour on the mat in my dress blues. all my clothes underneath were blue when I went downstairs,”
Sentinels must work three our of five days in a nine day period. If a guard works on the first, third and fifth day, he gets the next four days off. Cooper said this was a change from when he was a Guard.
“We were on 26 hours and 48 hours off for my whole time. Every third day you worked,” Cooper said.
When visiting the Tomb, it is important for tourists to respect the railings, chains and Sentinels. If you don’t you can expect to be reprimanded by the Sentinel on post. Many visitors to the Tomb come to remember their own family members who have gone missing, so it’s important to maintain a respectful attitude.
“It’s a sacred place. It’s humbling to see how some people come up there and kneel and pray,” Cooper said.
To mirror the highest military honor, the 21-gun salute, the number 21 is incorporated into everything. Guards walk 21 steps in front of the tomb, wait 21 seconds, then turn and walk 21 steps back across and repeat until the Changing of the Guard Ceremony.
Guards are expected to maintain the same attitude that visitors do.
“What would get you is a little boy’ll come up, and not meaning to, but [he’ll say] ‘Mommy he looks like our mailman.’ Something like that to me was funny, but you better not dare laugh or especially not get caught grinning,” Cooper said.
The main tomb holds the World War I unknown soldier and the 3 crypts in front hold unknown soldiers from World War II and Korea. The crypt in the center previously held an unknown Vietnam soldier, although he was identified in 1994 and removed for his family to bury him. Because of DNA testing, it is unlikely that any other unknown soldiers will be buried at the tomb.
“I hope that they [visitors to the Tomb] remember that there are soldiers and Navy men and Marines who fought these battles and a lot of them didn’t come back,” Cooper said. “Those unknowns represent all branches of service, throughout the years back to the beginning.”