The four class officers are shown at Gettysburg. From left are Sarah Reicks, Sydnie Huffman, Alex Fishbaugher and Keeley Todd.  SUBMITTED PHOTO
The four class officers are shown at Gettysburg. From left are Sarah Reicks, Sydnie Huffman, Alex Fishbaugher and Keeley Todd. SUBMITTED PHOTO
I knew some information about Arlington National Cemetery. I knew that it is a sacred place and that it always has a certain mood of sadness. However, I did not know that it was so powerful when I first arrived there.

Monday, April 7, was the day my classmates and I were going to Arlington. There was a light drizzle of rain and it was cloudy all day, except the sky was not very dark. My class arrived at the gates of Arlington and most of my fellow classmates stepped off the bus to enter the large visitors' center. I, on the other hand, and my three fellow class officers, had to get changed into our professional-looking clothes to look presentable for the laying of the wreath ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

As I stepped off the bus, Mr. (Carlyn) Kraabel, our wonderful guide, handed me an umbrella so I didn't get too wet from the rain, since I had no rain gear. I walked straight toward the center. I waited in there for the other class officers. When they arrived, the whole class started to walk slowly outside and this was when the scene first hit me.

The sight of Arlington was amazing. The rows of the heroes' graves are perfectly in line. The white granite stones just seem to keep going, never ending. The sound, it was quiet. It was perfect. I did hear some of my class members who were talking. I had heard in the distance a bugle playing and I looked over my shoulder and noticed a funeral ceremony for a fallen soldier. This prompted me to tell the talkative members of my class to be quiet and respectful. We made our way along through the cemetery, and at one point the class officers left the quiet group to go prepare for the ceremony.

Keeley Todd (class vice-president), Sarah Reicks (treasurer), Sydnie Huffman (secretary) and I (president) arrived at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and it was a sight in itself. In front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was a large amphitheater made out of marble. I learned it was for the funerals of the soldiers who don't make it home because they are missing.

We made our way to the guard house where we were briefed by a sergeant of the United States Army about our upcoming procedure. The time had come and the four of us were standing in order at the top of the 15 marble steps leading down to the Tomb. I was excited. As the guard marched up to us, he briefed us again, and then it was show time.

The sober guard walked to position in front of us and another guardsman had given the crowd a summary of what would happen. Then, the first guard who had talked to us gave us the signal to march forward to him. It was quiet as could be.

We marched with the guard down the stairs to the main platform just 10 feet in front of the Tomb. The rain pooled on the cold, white, marble steps.

Keeley and I stopped on a darker tile, and then another guardsman marched to us and told us to place our hands upon the wreath and follow him. We did so and when our class wreath draped in teal and black with a ribbon proclaiming "Fillmore Central" was laid, we turned to join Sydnie and Sarah where we had left them.

When Keeley and I got back into our positions on the darker marble square, everyone was given a command to "Present Arms," which was to put our right hands over our hearts. Then, in the midst of the silence, a bugle started to play "Taps."

There was a lot going through my head at the time: I was thinking about all the men and women who had died for our country, all the service members who are serving in the Armed Forces today, and how lucky I am to have been able to pay this tribute to them and be part of this honor.

At the same time these thoughts were going on, my heart was about to burst out of my chest. When "Taps" was over, I could hear a faint gunshot in the distance and I knew it was seven guns firing the honorary "21 Salute" to that fallen soldier from the ceremony we had seen at the beginning of the day. This just added to the effect of the whole scene.

We four officers turned around and marched back up the stairs and were thanked by the guard with a handshake.

The wreath laying was the ending experience of our visit to Arlington National Cemetery. It had changed my life forever and it will always be in my memories.

Arlington National Cemetery is a very powerful place and everyone needs to visit there at least once in their lifetime. It will make you feel compassion and love for our service members when you see the miles of white marble stones. I am glad I could enjoy this experience with my fellow class officers.

Editor's note: This is the first essay in a series that will be printed in the News-Record and Republican-Leader about the Fillmore Central senior class trip. They are written by members of Gerri Nielsen's composition class.