Having lived in the Washington DC Metro Area for several years, it was not uncommon to hear reports about potential (or actual) government shutdowns. Whenever they would start, my friends (who worked with the government) would express their concerns about finances and budgeting to manage their finances if the shutdown occurred.
Then there would be additional concerns about how these shutdowns would affect everyone living in (or close to) Washington DC. You can read additional information about shutdowns here.
When the government shutdown in 2013 occurred, I didn’t think a lot about it. But as an apprentice photographer and someone who loves American History, I always wondered how a government #shutdown affected the soldiers who stood by the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery. Having admired their precision and steadfastness, I always wondered “if the government shuts down, are they still there guarding the tomb of unknowns and performing the changing of the guard?”.
And most people who are familiar with this very celebrated service would tell you that they are always there 24/7. And yes, I am one of those people who would love to capture a Changing of the Guard ceremony at midnight or in the early morning hours, when the park is closed and it is snowing. As a photographer, it’s one of my bucket list goals that I would love to try.
So in 2013, the government had been shutdown and there had been a controversy as veterans visiting the WWII memorial as part of the Honor Flight Program had been originally denied access to the memorial because of the government shutdown. Reports of the veterans being barred from and then subsequently (finally) allowed to visit the memorial are here and here.
After hearing this news and wanting to visit (okay – maybe “check in on”) the Changing of the Guard at Arlington National Cemetery, I grabbed my camera and headed out.
Sure enough, Arlington National Cemetery was open but because the government was shutdown, their staffing was limited and none of the tour buses were running so if you wanted to visit any of the sites within the cemetery, you had to go on foot – which I actually love doing because it is quiet and you can see everything at your own pace.
When I approached the Tomb of the Unknowns, I took some pictures and then watched the changing of the guard ceremony. After about an hour of taking pictures, I heard a loud engine and thought about how strange this was as none of the tour buses had been running. But as the sound of the engine became louder, sure enough, a bus full of passengers arrived along the side of the building and stopped.
When the door to the bus opened, all of the veterans who had been originally denied access to the World War II memorial the previous day were assisted off of the bus to see the Changing of the Guard ceremony.
Usually, when I had seen the Changing of the Guard previously, there were veterans and tourists and families with young children, but never the number of veterans who were escorted and assisted to the front rows on this day.
To say it was inspiring would be a massive understatement.
Those of us who had already been there for a while watched them watch the Changing of the Guard and then looked on again as the ceremony was done to perfection – as it always is. The ceremony ended at the same time the park would be closed for the evening.
Many people stayed to watch (and applaud) as the veterans returned to their bus, glad (like I was) to have been able to share this moment with them. Once their bus had left, the remaining quiet was disturbed only by the footsteps of the rest of us leaving the cemetery inspired and motivated by the service of the men and women who had joined us on this day.