Today is Jack Strouss’ 87th birthday. Jack was born in Atlanta, GA, where he still lives today, on June 24th, 1923. Jack was one of the three World War II veterans who lay a wreath this month in Arlington National Cemetery in honor of AVER’s fallen. Following are Jack’s own words describing the event. He wrote this up for his family and I asked if I could share it with AVER. I have left everything exactly as Jack wrote it.
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY JUNE 11, 2010
The veterans organization to which I belong, American Veterans For Equal Rights – AVER, through the diligence of our National President, Mr. Danny Ingram, requested that our Veterans organization be allowed to place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in honor of our WWII Veterans from our organization, living and dead. This honor was granted and the date of June 11, 2010 was given and to be held at 1:35 P.M. that date.
We gathered at the main gate of the cemetery well ahead of our schedule time as special permission had to be given for our vehicles to drive to the Amphitheater area as our WWII veterans could not walk that distance up the long hill. With “handicap” tags for each vehicle (3) for our party of seven, we were given special “tags” that allowed our vehicles to the parking area nearest the Tomb Of The Unknowns.
Once there it was a short walk to a receiving room under the Amphitheater where we were to be “inspected” for proper dress at this hallowed site. We all had Military Uniforms or proper civilian or Clerical Dress. Two of our party were Clerics.
At the time for our ceremony to begin the Sgt. At Arms who would lead us down the stairs and throughout the ceremony came and explained in detail what we would be doing as we followed him down to the Tomb. We assumed that he was one of the Military that are assigned as perpetual guards for the Tomb. He was quite tall, perfectly dressed in his uniform and very careful with his specific spoken instructions that we were to follow.
With us that day were three members of AVER who are WWII Veterans. One from Florida, one from Georgia, and one from the District of Columbia. They all served in the European Theater of Operations in WWII.
They are: Father John J. McNeill, Dr. Frank Kameny and Mr. Jack W. Strouss.
From here I, Jack Strouss, shall use “first person” to explain how the ceremony went from this point to the conclusion.
We followed the Sgt. Outside to the top of the steps that lead down to the Tomb. There we were placed two by two with Danny Ingram and myself as the two leads behind the Sgt. Directly behind were Dr. Kameny and Father McNeill side by side. The others in our party were allowed to follow down only to the last step. We four were only allowed on the terrace level with the Tomb.
Hundreds of tourists visit the Tomb area each day and watch the sentinels as they march back and forth in 30 min. periods then the change of the guard occurs. The tourist area is restricted and is outside the stairs we used.
Fortunately I was placed to the left of Danny Ingram on whose left arm I steadied myself during the descent of the many steps to the Tomb Level. I had my walking stick, as did the other two Veterans but having Danny kept me from wobbling and even possibly missing a step on the descent.
Once on the Tomb level we followed the Sgt. to the edge of the black rubber type pad upon which the sentinels march back and forth. Our wreath has already been placed near the Tomb before our arrival and the Sgt. then crossed the black pad area and brought the wreath up to our side of the pad. He told us to place our hands on the wreath and to follow him. I indicated to him that I had a walking stick, and he then said, “Hand” realizing I could not use “hands” as he had instructed. So Danny and I put our hand and hands on the wreath. Then Sgt. told us to follow him. He walked backwards over the black pad to the side quite near the face of the Tomb with us holding the wreath until he stopped and set it down.
It was only then that I could take a moment to look up and realize where we were and we were so close to the Tomb and it seemed to loom over us. I had no idea it was so large or tall and seen from a distance, as everyone usually does see it, one has no feel for how large or small the Tomb is. I had been there before as a tourist and suddenly realized where I was standing. Then I could read the simple Inscription on the side of the Tomb facing us: “Here Rests In Honored Glory An American Soldier Known But to God.”
Remembering that moment now is difficult to explain, however flashed through my mind were several names of departed friends, my WWII Buddies. There was total silence as the tourist area has clearly marked signs noting that “complete silence and respect is required”. Then the Sgt. at Arms shouted his command: “Present Arms”, when we then saluted and Taps began to sound from the bugler just to our left.
I must admit that I had quite a few tears to shed during those moments. It was indeed a very emotional moment that only one can experience who is in that exact spot at that time in the ceremony. A moment that is clearly etched in my memory.
After Taps faded away, Sgt. shouted his “order arms” and our salutes came down and many tourists lowered their hands from over their hearts. All of this is complete silence except for the commands from the Sgt. and the bugle.
I looked then at the Wreath before us and the inscription on the large ribbon that was woven in between the flowers: “American Veterans For Equal Rights Honors Our WWII Veterans”. This was not just for the three of us present, of course, but AVER members who have gone on before us.
Then Sgt. softly told us to turn about, (fortunately not “About Face” as he could have as both Danny and I were in full Uniform, Sgt. realized that with my walking stick such a move would be impossible. For that I was grateful). Then he simply told us to return to the steps for the return to the upper terrace where others of our party were waiting.
Again Danny’s right arm, this time, allowed me to steady myself on the slow climb back up those many steps. We did not try to move fast and finally reached the top. Then we went back into the reception room (a memorial room in the Amphitheater) to meet with our party and a few invited well-wishers and photographers. Many flashes were popping about and we three WWII Vets were asked to step up on a small raised platform in front of a large flag display for more photos of us.
After perhaps 15 to 20 minutes we finally were able to gather our party together and leave that room and at the request of our AVER Photographer, and were asked to go to a shaded lawn area for more photographs in an entirely different setting.
Our photographer, and others in our party, took photos all during the formal ceremony doing the best they could but not being allowed on the Tomb level photos of that time were, at best, taken from our backs or with a telescopic lens on the camera.
Fortunately it was not one of D.C. areas’ very hot and humid Summer days, and we were comfortable in 85 degrees with low humidity as we made our way back to the vehicles for our return to the City.
I felt that while my memory was still sharp just a week after the Ceremony that I should make this written account for myself and anyone else in the future who might wish to read about this great honor that AVER had on June 11, Friday, 2010.