MEMORIAL DAY - Remember The Fallen

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John F. Kennedy's funeral in 1963
included a riderless horse, named

             "Black Jack",

with boots facing backwards in the

                                                         M E M O R I A L   D A Y 

                                                           Remember The Fallen

Riderless horse adds poignancy to military burials

Riderless horses honor high-ranking fallen U.S. troops, government officials

Many recall horse with empty saddle during 1963 JFK funeral

Army's ceremonial "Old Guard" unit prides itself on its military funerals

Tradition of riderless horses at funerals dates to ancient Rome, soldier says

By Bob Kovach

ARLINGTON, Virginia (CNN) -- Staff Sgt. Travis Nielsen had no idea when he joined the U.S. Army that
his duty would include one of the most solemn and hallowed ceremonies in the military.

John F. Kennedy's funeral in 1963 included a riderless horse, named "Black Jack", with boots facing backwards
in the saddle.

During funeral processions at Virginia's Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, Nielsen walks the
so-called riderless horse -- a powerful military symbol that stands among the highest honors for the fallen.

Images of the so-called caparisoned horse -- often referred to as the "cap horse" --
remain emblazoned in the memories of millions of shocked Americans who watched televised images of
President John F. Kennedy's funeral procession shortly after his 1963 assassination.

According to Army tradition, a ceremonial horse is led by a "cap walker" -- like Nielsen -- in a procession
with boots set backward in the saddle's stirrups. In addition to high-ranking government officials such as
the president, the cap horse honor is reserved for officers of the rank of colonel or above.

The tradition dates "to Roman times, or Genghis Khan," Nielsen said, "as a high honor bestowed on high-

ranking fallen warriors."

The ancient riderless horse ceremony didn't include backward boots, he said, but it did include an
unusual meal.

"They were shrouding their horses or putting him in battle armor or escorting the fallen to their grave,"

Nielsen said. "When that was done they would eat the horse and they would have a big feast."

Today "the boots facing backward symbolize [that] the fallen won't ride again and [the rider is] looking

back on his family one last time," he said.

Nielsen serves with the ceremonial Caisson Platoon of the 3rd U.S. Infantry regiment, also known as
The Old Guard, based at Fort Myer, Virginia, near the cemetery. Formed in 1784, the Old Guard ranks
as the oldest active duty unit in the Army.

Platoon soldiers rarely know any details about the troops or civilians they honor.

"Sometimes someone who served with the fallen -- or maybe [who] went to [military] academy with them -- will come up to you and tell you what a great guy they were," Nielsen said.

When choosing Old Guard members, commanders "want guys who are punctual and disciplined and picky about the way they look and the way their horses look," he said.

The focus of much of Nielsen's duties involves drilling and training horses such as Kennedy, a cap horse whose previous career involved running around harness racing tracks.

Staff Sgt. Travis Nielsen
groominf Kennedy

Cemetery ceremonial horses are washed and brushed until their coats give off a bright sheen. Saddles and brass are buffed and polished until they shine like mirrors.

Ancient caissons that carry flag-draped caskets are cleaned and readied for a day of service.

As for the soldiers, Old Guard members' woolen uniforms are flawless and take hours to prepare, as each
inch is inspected again and again.

Uniforms are pressed and ironed. Shoes and brass are polished and shined.

"In the winter it can get pretty cold out there," Nielsen said. "In the summer -- it's no joke -- the summers get extremely hot. There will be heat indexes of 100 to 115 degrees."

Nielsen described his duty as rewarding.

"We carry America's heroes to their final resting place"

he said.

Soldiers in formation lead the procession. An Army band plays, and the unit marches to muffled drums.

The caisson passes, led by six horses -- either black or white. The horses' harnesses jangle and the caisson wheels rumble through the hallowed paths of Arlington.

Bringing up the rear of the procession is Nielsen, leading Kennedy.

They pass in formation directly behind a flag-draped casket carrying the body of a soldier or Marine -- Navy and Air Force officers do not use cap horses at burial ceremonies.

After a casket is carried to a burial site, the caisson and cap horse depart.

Nielsen and Kennedy head back
to the stables alone, to prepare
for another ceremony.


                                          Friends, Comrades Live On In Hearts Of Veterans

By Jim Michaels,
Andrea Stone and
Gregg Zoroya,

On this Memorial Day, many Americans will remember friends and relatives who fell in wars past and present.

But whom will the troops here and overseas recall, on the day designed to honor the lives of those claimed in battle?

More than paying tribute to selfless acts of a distant past, this generation of servicemembers will see the faces of people they admired, faces of those who served with them side by side.

For those on the battlefield, such as Army Pfc. Thomas Grimm in Baghdad, the death of a mentor just weeks ago still cuts deep.

For others who have returned home, memories of those who died months or years ago remain strong: the death of a tough gunnery sergeant; the loss of a talented and visionary Army doctor; the killing of an Army staff sergeant who knew the wisdom of urging troubled soldiers to seek mental health counseling.


                                  At Vietnam Memorial, Growing List Honors Fallen

by Jim Wildman

Nearly 30 years after the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was erected, names are still being added. Jim Wildman/NPR,
May 24, 2008

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial opened in 1982, but it remains unfinished.

Though Maya Lin's granite design included almost 58,000 names of U.S. men and women who were killed or missing in the Vietnam War, space was left open for new names to be added. More than 300 names have been added over the years.

Many who were wounded in the conflict died outside the war zone or died years later. That's what happened to Dennis O. Hargrove of Burns, Tenn. Multiple gunshot wounds he suffered in 1969 left him paralyzed for the rest of his life. He died in 1987, and his sister petitioned the Defense Department to include his name in the official tally of war dead.

Hargrove's name is one of four added to the memorial this year. They were carved in earlier this month by two stone engravers using a special sandblaster. Visitors can pick out the additions by counting six names on a line one more than the original design.

The newest names are made official during Memorial Day ceremonies.

Ghost in the Shell:

The Vietnam Memorial is so grim and ominous up close. I notice that all he people who got America into their current wars so carelessly (Bush & Cheney) are the ones that managed to weasel out of service in Vietnam.


Welcome to the Forum, Ghost!!!

You are the first one I ever heard say that the VietNam memorial is 'depressing and ominous'......

I DO so agree with you! 

I wonder how many others feel the same way, but won't say it out loud?  I guess they picked
that design because there were so many fallen and, by having each and every name there, it
would be a way of atoning for the despicable way that Vietnam vets were treated when they
came home.....

"I notice that all he people who got America into their current wars so carelessly (Bush & Cheney)
are the ones that managed to weasel out of service in Vietnam."

You got that right!!

My favourite is the Iwo Jima memorial.  I will never forget the first time I saw it.  I was in a car,
looking for something in my purse, then looked up and I was face-to-face with those beautiful
statues.  I first saw it from the front, not the way it is in that picture above. 

I looked for a picture from the other angle, but couldn't find it. 

It was a very powerful emotional encounter........


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