NORTH PLATTE, Neb. –
It was April when Michelle Lupomech reached out through her connections in the Indiana chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution to see about bringing the traveling Tomb of the Unknown Soldier replica to her hometown of North Platte, a city of 25,000 in western Nebraska. Dubbed ‘The Energizer Bunny’ by her friends, Michelle had already formed a small committee and was deep into making plans for an event when the word came back: yes, the Tomb was coming.
The second call was from Michelle’s husband Ed, a retired Army Reserve major and Purple Heart recipient, to the North Platte U.S. Army Reserve Center, home of the 1013th Quartermaster Company. Ed was seeking uniformed support for the monument’s visit, and some guidance on how to make the event look and feel as it should.
“I’ve never done anything like this before,” he confessed at the successful conclusion of the ceremony, which saw several hundred service members, veterans and civilians in attendance. “I had some ideas, but I’m so grateful Staff Sgt. Harris was able to take charge of the procession.”
Leading the Way
Staff Sgt. Aaron Harris, Maintenance Supervisor with the 295th Ordnance Company in Hastings, Neb., reflected on he and four fellow Reserve Soldiers participating in the event. “It’s absolutely an honor. We can all do more in our community, and remind people that the Reserve is here for them,” said Harris.
Stepping out front of a small formation that included the Army Reserve, Civil Air Patrol, Junior ROTC, a local honor guard and a marching drummer, Harris and his peers quickly coached them on how to stand properly, march together, carry their weapons and the colors. They ran through the sequence of events, clarifying who was to go where, and how to respond when given a command.
The results were sharp. A horse-drawn caisson and limber approached the Buffalo Bill Ranch state historical park, following its 90-minute procession through the flag-lined streets of North Platte. Staff Sgt. Harris quietly called cadence over the drumbeat, marching the contingent and the carriage, with its symbolic flag-covered casket, past the standing, silent crowd an on towards the Tomb of the Unknown
Harris, along with Staff Sgt. Paul Mills and Spc. Danial Best, unhooked the carriage, manually maneuvering it under a protective tent and into position next to the Tomb.
The Soldiers then escorted representatives from local chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution to lay a wreath at the foot of the tomb. In their chrome helmets, the rifle guard fired a 21-gun salute through their M1 Garands. The traveling monument’s caretakers played a solemn two-bugle echo version of Taps while all present rendered honors.
Concluding with brief remarks from the Honorable Brandon Kelliher, Mayor of North Platte, the event was a memorable half-hour for those watching online and those in attendance, many decked out in patriotic clothing and most holding small American flags.
Staff Sgt. Clayton Manning from the local detachment of the 1013th remarked that this type of service to the local community helps the Army Reserve foster strong working relationships. “It reminds folks that we’re here, and there’s more to being a Soldier in the Reserve than just going to Battle Assembly.”
In fact, the home units for most of the Reserve Soldiers involved were either away at Annual Training, or preparing for an upcoming deployment in support of contingency operations. Sgt. Adam Greenman looked at their participation in the event as a meaningful service to the community, and an opportunity for Soldier cohesion. “We were all willing and able.”
A Century of Honor
The original Tomb of the Unknown Soldier - often simply referred to as the ‘Tomb of the Unknowns’ - resides at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C. It was commissioned in 1921 and, for 100 years, has served as an enduring reminder of the ultimate sacrifice made by America’s daughters and sons.
In remarks made during establishment of the Tomb in March 1921, Rep. Hamilton Fish III stated, “The burial of the Unknown Warrior should give the whole country an opportunity to express in a National way, their tribute to the glorious dead.”
The traveling replica, which took five years to commission and build, brings that opportunity to pay tribute directly to towns and cities across America. Of the five Reserve Soldiers who supported the event, just two had visited the original Tomb site at Arlington before.
Staff Sgt. Manning summed up the team’s involvement in the event, saying “This was a once-in-a-career opportunity.”