Bellingham man stood guard when 'unknowns' buried at Arlington tomb

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDNovember 11, 2011 

Veterans Day Ð Stark

Dick Stark of Bellingham was a U.S. Army guard assigned to the 1958 Memorial Day ceremony at which President Eisenhower laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. On that day, the remains of "unknowns" from World War II and the Korean War were interred in the memorial, which is now called The Tomb of the Unknowns.

U.S. ARMY AND DICK STARK — COURTESY TO THE HERALD

I was fortunate enough to serve in the U.S. Army "between wars," from 1956 to 1958. Ed Vanderhaak from Lynden and I were drafted the same day.

We served in Washington, D.C., as members of the 3rd Infantry, the Army's famous Old Guard. It was a ceremonial outfit. We did full Army parades three times a week during the summer, with the Army band playing and stands packed with tourists to watch the event.

We were also at presidential arrivals and in front of the White House when foreign leaders visited, including England's Queen Elizabeth II.

Some of our guys guarded the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The most significant event while we where there was Memorial Day 1958. Until then, there was only one "unknown" at the tomb, a serviceman from World War I.

On that day, "unknowns" from World War II and the Korean War were interred with full military honors. The nation watched the event on television. Dave Garroway did his national TV show from the amphitheater behind the tomb.

President Eisenhower, who had been supreme Allied commander for the Normandy invasion, was there to place a large wreath. Behind him, a large group of men, some in wheelchairs, others on crutches and with missing limbs, stood. They were all living recipients of the Medal of Honor.

I was positioned in front of an enormous crowd, about 15 yards from the tomb, and was able to see the full ceremony close-up. There were eight of us spaced a few yards apart. As President Eisenhower departed, he walked just a few feet in front of us as he left.

I was a heartwarming experience, and video of the ceremony is often played back on TV on Memorial Day.

Dick Stark lives in Bellingham. The memorial at Arlington National Cemetery is now called The Tomb of the Unknowns.

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