By Sherri Coner
Members of Boy Scout Troop 245 love rowdy stuff like hiking, camping in the wild and learning all kinds of cool survival skills.
But when they recently participated in an American military tradition – placing a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – these otherwise squirrely little boys presented the respectful side of their personalities.
With more than 60 scouts in the troop, 13 are in a patrol for younger scouts.
Of those patrol members, four 11-year-old scouts traveled in early April to Washington, D.C.
The group included Alex Schruben, son of Ben and Rachel Schruben, Dylan Kreigh, son of Brittany Kreigh, Connor VanAken, son of Harry VanAken, who also serves as assistant Scoutmaster and Jackson Podesta, son of Ray and Angie Podesta.
All of the scouts reside in the Center Grove area.
During the four-day visit, the boys and their families saw the White House, the cherry blossom trees in early bloom and they were allowed a tour of the Capital.
“We got to write our own bill,” said Connor VanAken. “I wrote my bill about teachers getting more pay and better benefits.”
They also met a former Eagle Scout who is now a member of Senator Todd Young’s staff.
Before traveling to Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., where nearly 400,000 people are buried on 639 acres, Angie Podesta, and Harry VanAken again explained the visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“We prepared them to understand the symbolism of the ceremony of placing the wreath,” Angie Podesta said. “I think participating definitely meant a lot to them.”
“You can’t go to Arlington National Cemetery without also seeing the Eternal Flame,” Harry VanAken said of the light placed at the head of President John F. Kennedy’s grave.
“So we also walked over there,” he said.
Enjoying so many educational experiences was an extra bonus.
Learning the story of the Tomb meant just as much to them as being trusted to place a wreath there. During the winter of 1921, the body of an unidentified soldier who lost his life in World War I was transported to Washington, D.C. Until that point in history, unknown soldiers had often been buried in mass graves.
But creating a true resting place for soldiers without names, guarding the Tomb 24 hours a day, showed a lot more respect and pride to acknowledge unknown American heroes. Two more unknown heroes’ bodies were added to the Tomb in 1958 and 1984.
The boys were mesmerized by the Tomb Guard, also called Sentinel, and the significance of the number 21. They watched the guard take 21 steps behind the Tomb before turning to the east for 21 seconds. After facing north for another 21 seconds, the guard turned and repeated 21 steps behind the Tomb.
“That’s the military’s top honor, the 21 steps,” Connor said.
“I was a little bit nervous,” Jackson Podesta said of the task. “It’s super serious and I’ve never done anything like that.”
As the four boys slowly made their way toward the Tomb on that chilly April day, Jackson and Connor carried the wreath.
The crowd of onlookers was completely silent – a show of respect.
Jackson’s grandpa, Mike Ford of Evansville, Ind., photographed the memorable experience.
“I felt happy that I didn’t mess it up. I was proud of myself,” Jackson said of the moment he and Connor carefully and perfectly placed the wreath in its designated place.
After a brief pause, Jackson added, “Only God knows who the actual soldier was, no one else.”