ARLINGTON, Va. — The American Legion Riders walked solemnly behind bag pipe players, then stood somberly for a prayer as huge American flags waved in the wind — all in honor of unknown Civil War soldiers.
Vietnam Army Veteran Brad Watkins got choked up.
“It’s kind of humbling to be a part of this kind of ceremony,” Watkins said.
The veterans then walked over to the Civil War Unknown Monument, a rectangular, grayish memorial near Arlington House, often forgotten when people gather at the much better known Tomb of the Unknowns.
The remains of 2,111 Confederate and Union soldiers gathered from the fields of Bull Run and the route to the Rappahannock River lie there. After an honor guard, a red, white and blue wreath was laid, and some veterans wiped tears from their eyes as Taps was played.
“We owe them not only a debt of gratitude, we owe them a debt we can’t fully repay,” said World War II veteran Dr. Bruce Heilman.
A Marine for 73 years, Heilman is Chancellor of the University of Richmond. For the second year in a row, the 89-year-old rode a motorcycle 6,000 miles to honor Gold Star families, who have lost an immediate family member serving in the nation’s armed forces.
“They are those who have given their lives for our country, and they ought not be forgotten,” Heilman said.
“Memorial Day [is] more than hot dogs and marshmallows. It will touch your hearts … and we’ll be free.”