This month four members of the Spokane Valley Fire Department honor guard had the opportunity to perform a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, an experience that still gives department engineer Matt Jorgensen chills when he thinks about it.
The experience was particularly meaningful for Jorgensen, a former Marine. “It’s a special spot for me,” he said. For him, placing a wreath there was a way to show respect for those who had died in service to their country. “It was pretty moving for all of us,” he said.
Every year four members of the department’s honor guard are picked to represent the department at a ceremony at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Md. Usually the firefighters use their few hours of free time to visit sites in the Washington, D.C., area, including the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They would wear their civilian clothes and watch the changing of the guard ceremony just like other tourists.
But Jorgensen recently learned that groups can petition to be allowed to lay a wreath at the tomb. He knew that he and his fellow firefighters had only a few hours available on a specific day, but sent in the application anyway. The application was approved, but their scheduled time was only three hours before their flight home on Oct. 8. Jorgensen and his fellow honor guard members, engineer Brian Grable, engineer/paramedic Dave Vegele and engineer Mike Claggett, decided to press on despite the risk of missing their flight.
“We all figured it was worth it,” Jorgensen. “If we missed it we figured we’d buy other tickets.”
Jorgensen has participated in numerous wreath ceremonies with the honor guard, of which he was a founding member 11 years ago. But this one was different. He was very nervous. “I wanted to make sure we did it right,” he said.
Being allowed to walk on the memorial to place the wreath was special, Jorgensen said. They were able to look out over Arlington and see the Pentagon and several national monuments. “They even had a bugler and they played ‘Taps,’ ” Jorgensen. “I’m getting chills just thinking about it.”
It was a short ceremony and the firefighters had to rush to the airport when it was over, still wearing their dress uniforms. They quickly changed in a parking garage before catching their flight. “I wish we could have stayed and soaked it in,” he said.
Jorgensen said he’s not sure if the honor guard will try to repeat the experience in future years, though he knows other firefighters are interested.
“I surely think guys would try,” he said. “I hope they can. Everybody should experience it. It kind of puts things back into focus and makes us realize how lucky we are.”