India’s India Gate was made by the British as a tribute to 74,187 Indian soldiers, who were killed out of 1.5 million who participated in World War (WW) I. The Teen Murti was a memorial to honour personnel of the Indian Cavalry, who died in WW I. In WW II, 2.5 million Indian personnel were the decisive factor for Allied victory, but the Brits left in too much of a hurry to make another war memorial. Indian troops have been paid impressive tributes by a number of Allied countries for their role in both WWs I and II, with citations of their gallantry well recorded in museums and memorials. The Indian Government since Independence obviously had no time to even think about even one war memorial despite being responsible for ordering the Armed Forces to fight several wars and conflicts since then.
While USA entered both WW I and II late, it built imposing memorials and/or museums for both. There is also a memorial for US Marine Corps in WW II, as well as veterans memorials for those involved in Korea and Vietnam. And all of these are in Washington DC. The Arlington cemetery spread over 624 acres in Virginia, is as good as in Washington. There is a separate memorial for women soldiers.
Visiting the Arlington National Cemetery during this visit to the US recently, was indeed a moving experience. And as I noticed, it is an emotional exercise for not only American soldiers and veterans but civilians too. The crowds that come to visit national war memorials in the US are a testimony to the fact that no matter what the cause of deployment in any conflict-even those publicly perceived as futile or unnecessary-the respect that dead soldiers get is indeed wide and heartfelt. I am indeed sad to express that the experience of visiting Washington DC and the war memorials as an Indian, re-awoke utter disgust about how the Indian government since Independence has failed in inculcating national pride and how shabbily it has treated its Armed Forces. Republic Day parades, Independence Day flaghoisting ceremonies and broadcasting patriotic songs are certainly not anywhere near what needs to be done for Indians to feel proud of their nation. Without being an admirer of many aspects American, on the very important aspect of nationalism, India needs to learn from the US.
The Army National Military Cemeteries, consisting of Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia and Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery in Washington, DC, are under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Army. The Secretary of the Army consolidated authorities and created the Executive Director of the Army National Cemeteries Program to effectively and efficiently develop, operate manage and administer the program. The grounds of Arlington National Cemetery honour those who have served the nation by providing a sense of beauty and peace for visitors. The rolling green hills are dotted with trees that are hundreds of years in age and complement the gardens found throughout the 624 acres of the cemetery. This impressive landscape serves as a tribute to the service and sacrifice of every individual laid to rest within the hallowed grounds of Arlington National Cemetery.
The Tomb of the Unknowns, also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, located in Arlington National Cemetery is a monument dedicated to American servicemen who died without their remains being identified. The World War I “Unknown” is a recipient of the Medal of Honor, the Victoria Cross, and several other foreign nations’ highest service awards. The U.S. Unknowns who were interred are also recipients of the Medal of Honor, presented by U.S. Presidents who presided over their funerals.
Some details about the military guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier are worth knowing. The guard takes 21 marches steps across the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in keeping with the custom of the 21 gun salute given as the highest honor to any military or foreign dignitary. He hesitates for 21 seconds after his about -turn to begin his return march for the same reason. His gloves are moistened to prevent his losing his grip on the rifle. He always carries the rifle on the shoulder away from the tomb. After his march across the path, he executes an about-turn and moves the rifle to the outside shoulder. Guards are changed every thirty minutes, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year.
Applicants for guard duty at the tomb must be between 5′ 10′ and 6′ 2′ tall and with a waist size not exceeding 30 inches. They must commit 2 years of life to guard the tomb, live in barracks under the tomb, give up drinking any alcohol on or off duty for the rest of theirlives. They cannot swear in public for the rest of their lives and cannot disgrace the uniform or the tomb in any way. After two years, the guard is given a wreath pin that is worn on the lapel signifying his service as guard of the tomb. There are only 400 presently worn. The guard must obey these rules for the rest of their lives or give up the wreath pin. The shoes are specially made with very thick soles to keep the heat and cold from their feet. There are metal heel plates that extend to the top of the shoe in order to make the loud click as they come to a halt. There are no wrinkles, folds or lint on the uniform. Guards dress for duty in front of a fulllength mirror. The first six months of duty a guard cannot talk to anyone nor watch TV. All off duty time is spent studying the 175 notable people laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery . A guard must memorise who they are and where they are interred. Every guard spends five hours a day getting his uniforms ready for guard duty. In 2003, as Hurricane Isabelle was approaching Washington, DC, the US Senate/House took 2 days off in anticipation of the storm. Because of the dangers from the hurricane, the military members assigned the duty of guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier were given permission to suspend the assignment. They respectfully declined the offer, “No way, Sir!” Soaked to the skin, marching in the pelting rain of a tropical storm, they said that guarding the Tomb was not just an assignment, it was the highest honor that can be accorded to a serviceperson. The tomb has been patrolled continuously, 24/7, since 1930.
With all that Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke during his preelection rallies and after assuming charge, about the need for nationalism/national pride and a sense of history, it is hoped that a long overdue collation of post Independence war history will be done and a befitting national war memorial and a museum to honour those who sacrificed their lives to maintain that independence and integrity of India, will finally find a pride of place in the India’s capital. During his interim tenure as Defence Minister, Mr. Arun Jaitley had reportedly announced that a war memorial will be made at the statue pedestal traffic roundabout behind India Gate with a war museum at nearby Princess Park connected to the war memorial by an underground tunnel. I hope that comes about soonest.