Five Victorians buried in Arlington National Cemetery

May 19, 2010 at 12:19 a.m.

Everyone should have the opportunity to visit the most hallowed ground of our country. I am referring to the Arlington National Cemetery located on the fringe of Washington, D.C. I make a pilgrimage to that special place with every opportunity I have. My American College of Radiology has had its annual meeting in Washington, D.C., for the past several years. I will have the privilege of making this trip again this week.

Of course, I will visit Arlington again on Monday. The sight of this site always overwhelms me. As you read each etched statement on each tombstone, it brings one to earth in a hurry when you see the sacrifice of so many at such an early age.

This place has operated as a national cemetery since May of 1864. Veterans and other important persons are buried here, from the Revolutionary War, to the present military action in Iraq and Afghanistan. About 28 burials are conducted every day and the cemetery now contains about 300,000 individuals.

This cemetery is administered by the Department of the Army while most other national cemeteries come under the Department of Veterans Affairs.

A special place within the cemetery holds the Tombs of the Unknowns. The WWI tomb was filled on Nov. 11, 1921. The WWII tomb was filled on May 30, 1958. The Korean Conflict tomb was filled on May 30, 1958. The Vietnam Conflict tomb was filled on May 28, 1984. That body was later correctly identified and removed for burial near his home. That tomb remains empty to this day.

The tombs have been guarded by members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry (The Old Guard) since April 6, 1948. This special unit is the oldest active-duty infantry unit in the Army. It is a very impressive sight to see them guard and change the guard at that site. They do this 24 hours a day for 365 days a year. I hope all will have the experience of this moving ceremony at some time in their lives. There you will learn the meaning to our military of the special number 21. You will learn that 21 gun salutes are only sounded for our presidents. At funerals, the rifle squad sounds three volleys in honor of the deceased, not a 21 gun salute.

Eligibility for burial is open to all who have served their country and who were honorably discharged. Special restrictions apply for ground burial because of a limitation of space but any veteran can be buried, after cremation, in any of the many columbarium sites. An escort to the burial site can be arranged by contacting the cemetery headquarters.

Five Victorians who died while on active duty during WWI are buried in Arlington National Cemetery. I have visited and photographed the site of three of them. Jacob Bernhart Dentler died on Nov. 13, 1918 from wounds he received at Verdun, France. He was wounded on Nov. 4 but didn't die until after the armistice of November 11. He is buried in Section 18, Grave 1440. Clarence Elton Smith was killed in action on November 2, 1918 in France. He was buried in France in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery but was re-buried in Arlington in Section 18, Grave 2456. Leon Alva Zear was killed in action on Oct. 4, 1918, at Montfaucon, France. He was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Victoria until he was re-buried in Arlington on Oct. 16, 1921 in Section 18, Grave 3313. The local American Legion Post No. 166 carries his name.

Graves I will visit on Monday include that of Joseph C. Dunn. He was killed in action on Oct. 18, 1918, near St. Etienne, France. He is reported buried in Section Eur, grave 3480. William J. Rawlins died from Spanish Flu on Nov. 20, 1917, while training at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio. He is buried in Section 17, grave 19067.

I look forward to honoring them all during my visit.

This column is a research project of Dr. Peter B. Riesz and the Victoria County Veterans Council. Anyone who has information about veterans is asked to contact Riesz at pbriesz@sudden or 361-575-4600.



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