Apollo-Ridge students laid wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
The lead up to Memorial Day this month was extra special for some Apollo-Ridge Elementary School students.
Under the guidance of teacher Chad Danka, 27 students visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. Three of the students – Julianna Saxion, Caleb Coy and Mackenzie Magness – participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the tomb.
“It was a very good experience and I will remember it for a long time,” said Saxion, ready to complete fifth grade. “The soldier was a very nice man and helped us be right where we were supposed to be.”
Not everybody gets to participate in the solemn ceremony.
Danka had to apply a year ago and was given approval after being rejected twice.
“I applied for the honor on May 14, 2018,” said Danka, a 20-year teacher and an Apollo-Ridge graduate. “Opportunities are limited and requests fill fast.”
The wreath laid by the students was homemade by Apollo-Ridge Elementary teacher Amanda Kraemer. Under the tradition at the site, only one group per day participates with a maximum of four participants per ceremony.
“The students seemed a little nervous at first,” Danka said. “At the end, they breathed a huge sigh of relief.”
The student council paid their own way for the field trip with various fundraisers over the last year. They raised enough money to cover passport books, the cost of the bus, admission fees where necessary and dinner on the way home. No school district funds are used.
Saxion is student council president and Coy and Magness were selected after being the top fundraisers for the year.
The students even learned something they didn’t know.
Said Saxion: “I was told the soldier takes 21 steps, stops, and does 21 steps again.”
On March 4, 1921, the U.S. Congress approved the burial of an unidentified American serviceman from World War I in the plaza of the new Memorial Amphitheater in Arlington. On November 11, 1921 — Veterans Day — the unknown soldier brought back from France was interred below a three-level marble tomb.
The bottom two levels are six marble sections each and the top at least nine blocks with a rectangular opening in the center of each level through which the unknown remains were placed through the tomb and into the ground below. A stone, rather than marble, slab covers the rectangular opening.
For the last six school years, Danka, student council sponsor, has taken students to various sites around Washington, D.C.
In addition to the wreath-laying, students visited George Washington’s home in Mount Vernon.
During other trips, Danka’s students have hiked the National Mall, visiting the National Monuments, toured the White House, visited Ford’s Theater, the National Archives, the Smithsonian and the Frederick Douglass house.
Apollo-Ridge students visited Arlington Cemetery on two past occasions.
“When visiting the National Monuments, we have participated in the Passport to Your National Parks Program,” Danka said. “I’m also appreciative that out administrators, Superintendent Matthew Curci and building Principal Courtney Anderson, are very supportive of our groups and our desire to travel.”
This year’s trip included 17 fifth graders and 10 fourth graders.
George Guido is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.