Honoring Our Fallen
On April 6, 2017 at Arlington National Cemetery (ANC), a grateful nation laid to rest one of our most profound heroes, Senator John Herschel Glenn, Jr. HON’62. As the skies wept and solemn rains fell, The Explorers Club Washington Group (ECWG) represented The Club in honoring this great hero and other legendary explorers interred in our nation’s most hallowed ground. In attendance were President Ted Janulis MR’95 and Barbara Janulis, Vice-President of Chapters Bob Atwater LF’05, Executive Director Will Roseman MR’07, five former ECWG Chapter Chairs: Don Gerson FE’78, Jane Washburn Robinson FE’90, Alan Lukens ME’78, Jay Kaplan MN’01, and Jack Williams FN’03, as well as ECWG Board Members: Debbie Bell FN’14, Bruce Blanchard MED’78, Marilyn Livingood FN’03, Michael Max FN’05, Bill Runyon MN’01, Arnella Trent MN’16, Michael Wyrick MN’08, and ECWG members: Kellie Gerardi MR’13, Ken Kambis FN’11, Richard Vondrak FN’15, and guests.
Our day of remembrance began appropriately at the statue of Rear Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd, Jr., standing resolute on historic Arlington Memorial Avenue, the “Avenue of Heroes”. The Avenue and Memorial Bridge serve as the ceremonial entrance to Washington, D.C. and symbolically link North and South between the Lincoln Memorial and Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial.
Lead by ECWG Chair Lonnie Schorer MN’98 and retired U.S. Army Command Sergeant Major Eric Fies MN’16, the delegation proceeded by bus along the winding roadways of the 152-year-old, 624-acre cemetery to one of ANC’s oldest sections, just below the Kennedy Gravesites. There, ANC Historian Christopher Warren provided insight into the lives and achievements of the first set of explorers to be visited and honored: Aviators, Arctic Explorers, and Explorers Club Medalists Rear Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd, Jr. and Colonel Bernt Balchen, and famed Antarctic Explorers Captain Finn and Jackie Ronne.
Equipped with umbrellas, the delegation navigated the headstones and wet grass to stand before the marble and granite reminders of our honored fallen. At each grave, designees placed a single white rose and small TEC Flag to show our respect and mark our visit. Despite the downpour, explorers and guests marveled at the accomplishments inscribed in timeless honor to our inspirational brothers and sister of discovery.
Momentarily shaking off the rain, the delegation boarded the bus and proceeded to the oldest section of ANC nearest the former Custis-Lee Mansion to visit the grave of one of our Club’s founding fathers, Major General Adolphus Greely. An Arctic Explorer and Explorers Club Medalist, Major General Greely served as the first President of TEC from 1905-1906. A short walk later and just past Mrs. Robert E. Lee’s garden, Brigadier General David Legge Brainard lies in eternal slumber. The famed Arctic Explorer and Explorers Club Medalist was a Charter Member of TEC and served as the fourth President of TEC from 1912-1913.
The next stop on this expedition through time was on the southern border of ANC nearest the U.S. Air Force Memorial and overlooking the Pentagon. Respectfully pausing as a horse drawn caisson carrying the flag-draped casket of yet another hero passed the foggy windows of the bus, the delegation made its way to Section 8 and the graves of Arctic Explorers Matthew Alexander Henson and Admiral Robert Edwin Peary, Sr. Matthew Henson was the first African-American Arctic Explorer, adventuring beside Admiral Peary for nearly 23 years, and he became TEC’s first African-American Honorary Member in 1948. Admiral Peary received The Explorers Club Medal in 1914 and served as the third and fifth TEC President.
After honoring our famed Arctic duo, the delegation made its way to neighboring Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, home of the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment, known as “The Old Guard”, and to Patton Hall, for a delicious lunch in this former Army Officers’ Club. There, the esteemed Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan, former astronaut, TEC Medalist, and recently designated TEC Honorary Chair, joined the delegation. Dr. Sullivan, a close friend of Senator Glenn, attended the funeral service at the invitation of the Glenn Family.
Now provisioned to continue the expedition into the afternoon, the explorers made their way to ANC’s Memorial Amphitheater. Joined again by ANC Historian Christopher Warren and led into the Memorial Display Room, just yards away from the incredible Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the group received a private talk by the Sergeant of the Guard for the venerated Tomb Sentinels. These dedicated U.S. Army Infantrymen protect the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier 24-hours a day and 365-days a year, preventing anyone uninvited from approaching the Tomb Monument. At precisely 1330, the explorers stood silently to witness the Changing of the Guard, a ceremony occurring every 30 minutes around the clock whereby the on duty Tomb Sentinel is relieved by the oncoming Sentinel, all officiated by the Relief Commander.
Immediately following this time-honored event, the Relief Commander marched rigidly up the wide marble stairs from the Tomb Plaza and into the Memorial Display Room where TEC President Ted Janulis, Honorary Chair Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, TEC Treasurer Bruce Blanchard, and ECWG Chair Lonnie Schorer waited silently to meet him. They received instructions on the conduct of the wreath-laying ceremony about to occur as the weather subsided outside.
At 1345, the sky opened, storm winds howled, and torrential rains fell as our respected representatives proceeded with military precision down the stairs to the Tomb Plaza escorted by the Relief Commander. Unbeknownst to all there, an EF-0 tornado with winds between 60 and 70 mph swept through Arlington, Virginia and into D.C., damaging cherry trees along the Tidal Basin on its four-and-a-half mile path. Despite the tempest, on cue, and assisted by the Sentinel, our President and Honorary Chair stepped forward and stood before the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier placing a beautiful floral wreath where Heads of States often do. The fragrant wreath, made of red, white, and blue carnations laid in the diagonal pattern of the TEC Flag and displaying an image of our flag as a centerpiece, had a ribbon placed across the upper portion that read “The Explorers Club” and another across the lower portion that read “Godspeed, Explorers!” Once the wreath was placed, all in attendance stood absolutely still and silent as an Army Bugler sounded Taps in honor of our fallen comrades. Then, the official party departed the Tomb Plaza and the entire delegation reentered the Memorial Display Room.
ANC Historian Christopher Warren provided the group with a private tour of the exhibits and talked about the history of the Memorial Amphitheater and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Once completed, the explorers gathered beneath the apse in the back of the amphitheater stage for a TEC Flag photograph, then made their way on foot to the monuments to the crews of the Space Shuttles Challenger and Columbia. Once respects were paid and flags and roses placed, the delegation walked to Senator Glenn’s gravesite in Section 35 near the Memorial Amphitheater. As if on cue, the clouds dissipated and the sun shone beautifully across the iconic marble headstones.
John Glenn epitomized the spirit of exploration and service to country: a U.S. Marine Corps Aviator, pioneering Astronaut, and U.S. Senator. A larger than life character and hero to many, he embodied the mission of The Explorers Club and lived a legendary life as an inspiration to generations. Senator Glenn served as the Honorary Chair of TEC since 2013, when he received the Legendary Explorers Medal. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Congressional Gold Medal, Congressional Space Medal of Honor, NASA Distinguished Service Medal, six Distinguished Flying Crosses, and eighteen Air Medals.
The delegation warmly encircled his pristine and freshly covered grave, solemnly looking down upon the bouquets of flowers left their by his beloved Annie and their children. Dr. Sullivan provided a lovely eulogy, sharing fond memories of her personal interactions with the explorer, and then President Janulis and Jay Kaplan placed a TEC Flag and single white rose at the head of his grave. One by one, the explorers said their silent good-byes to one that will never truly leave us, turned and slowly walked away, completing the day’s expedition at our Nation’s Most Sacred Shrine.
Immediately following, an informal gathering was hosted by the ECWG in Washington, D.C. and many attended, reflecting on the day’s events and toasting, “To Fallen Heroes and New Adventures!”
Flapping in the Spring breeze, soaked by the torrential rains, and bearing witness to the burial of a legend, flew a single U.S. Flag at half-staff on the Memorial Amphitheater’s flagpole, only yards from Senator Glenn’s gravesite. As the sun set and Retreat was sounded, the Tomb Sentinels lowered this flag, gently folding the red and white stripes into the blue, just as the light of day vanishes into the night. In the early morning hours of April 7th, Eric Fies retrieved this triangular blue field of stars from the Sentinels, to be presented to President Janulis and placed on display at TEC Headquarters in memorium of a legend. Godspeed, John Glenn!
- CSM(R) Eric Fies, FRGS MN’16, email@example.com, with Lonnie Schorer MN’98