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Sentinel is ‘movie captain’

Members of the “Old Guard” pay respects to the Unknown Soldier interred almost 100 years ago at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Sentinels are now on the move to start a “National Salute” to commemorate that anniversary and a new documentary about service and sacrifice called “The Unknown” is part of that public awareness campaign. 
Contributed Photo

Members of the “Old Guard” pay respects to the Unknown Soldier interred almost 100 years ago at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Sentinels are now on the move to start a “National Salute” to commemorate that anniversary and a new documentary about service and sacrifice called “The Unknown” is part of that public awareness campaign. Contributed Photo

Gavin McIlvenna is on a mission to sell 63 tickets in 27 days to bring a documentary about the role of the “Old Guard” to Oregon as part of a National Salute to the 100th anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

McIlvenna, an Oregon State Police Trooper with The Dalles Area Command, said if the tickets for “The Unknowns” are not sold for $11 each, the planned screening for June 6 will be cancelled.

Tickets can be purchased online at http://gathr.us/screening/14931. Enter your location at the left side of the site and the Portland theater, the closest that works with Gathr, the on-demand distribution company, will come up. Click on that link and follow instructions to buy and print tickets for 7:30 p.m. Monday, June 6, at the Division Street Stadium 13 Theater, 16603 S.E. Division.

“People should see this documentary to better understand the process young soldiers go through as they stand watch around the clock, 365 days a year,” said McIlvenna.

“The Tomb is a place that fosters a unifying national identity that transcends America’s differences of race, politics and religion.”

McIlvenna holds Badge 457 of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment, the sentinels that guard the tomb. He also served with the Oregon National Guard, retiring at the rank of sergeant major.

He walked the mat in front of the sarcophagus in 1997 at the age of 27 and joined the long line of guard members who have kept vigil since 1937.

McIlvenna has taken on the role of “movie captain” to promote the new film. He also currently serves as vice-president of a nonprofit organization that educates Americans on the role of the Society of the Honor Guard, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

More information is available online about theorganization at www. tombguard.org or on Facebook.

On the home page of the SHGTUS site is the saying: “Soldiers never die until they are forgotten, tomb guards never forget.”

There are currently 601 badge holders in the U.S. and McIlvenna said the new documentary chronicles some of their thoughts on the meaning of service and sacrifice, as well as what it takes to become part of the elite ceremonial unit.

Their duties are not only ritualistic, he said, the guard are in place to prevent anyone from desecrating or disrespecting the final resting place of American heroes.

“It is our job to assure those who have earned eternal rest are not disturbed and we take that very seriously,” said McIlvenna in a 2015 interview

The standard for these soldiers is perfection, said McIlvenna, because they are “keeping the faith of the nation” by honoring America’s fallen warriors from the Civil War to present day.

He said the dedication of the guard is so great that they will not step foot on the red bricks around the crypts because it is considered sacred ground. Sentinels also try to know details on 200 notable graves out of more than 200,000 on the grounds.

It took four years for former tomb guard and society member Ethan Morse (2005-06) and fellow Army veteran Neal Schrodetzki to produce “The Unknowns.”

The extended preview on YouTube under that name shows both the strenuous training and grooming techniques of the guard unit.

“We understand that this is bigger than us,” said Ssgt. Bomer, a soldier in training. “It has nothing to do with me or my accomplishments, it has everything to do with honoring those who are interred.”

Sixteen million tourists visit Washington, D.C. every year and four million of those come to Arlington to pay their respects at the tomb.

“You want to get out there; you want to be outside,” said Sgt. Gougle, who holds Badge 601. “It doesn’t matter if there’s one person or 1,000 people out there. Being outside and getting to do our jobs — it’s the best job in the Army.”

Tomb Guard badges, the least awarded decoration in the military, can be revoked at any time in a veteran’s life if they don’t live up to the expected standards.

The remains of the first unknown were brought back from France and placed in a tomb below a white marble sarcophagus in the plaza of the memorial Amphitheater at Arlington three years after World War I ended on Nov. 11, 1918.

Inscribed on the sarcophagus is: “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”

West of the World War I tomb are crypts for the unknowns of World War II and Korea. The remains of the Vietnam unknown were exhumed in 1998 for DNA testing and identified as Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie, who was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972.

It was decided that the Vietnam crypt would remain vacant because DNA testing had made it possible to identify and return remains of the fallen to their families.

The cover of the Vietnam crypt now has the inscription, “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen 1958-1975,” in reference to the 1,268 service personnel still unaccounted for from that war.

With the 100th anniversary of the Unknown Soldier coming up in 1918, McIlvenna and other members of the guard are on the move to create a “National Salute.”

They want to raise public awareness about that benchmark and establish new protocol for Veterans Day that will become tradition for the next 100 years.

“The Unknowns” is one way the sentinels are getting out their message.

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