Honored to honor: U.S. Navy Veteran Chuck Bloxham of Waukon participates in wreath laying event at Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Honored to honor ... Chuck Bloxham of Waukon (center of three individuals in the photo foreground above) had the honor of laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery during an Iowa Veterans Memorial Tour to Washington, DC in early September. A U.S. Navy Veteran, Bloxham is pictured above laying the wreath with U.S. Army Veteran Richard Murray of Decorah (far left) after the two were selected to perform the honor. Submitted photo.

At the WWII Memorial ... U.S. Navy Veteran Chuck Bloxham of Waukon is pictured above standing next to the Iowa pillar of the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC during an Iowa Veterans Memorial Tour he was part of in early September. During the tour, Bloxham was one of four veterans selected to perform the honor of laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Solder at Arlington National Cemetery. Submitted photo.

by David M. Johnson

The society and culture of this nation has always had a special reverence for the deceased, almost unwritten rules that determine what respect is to be shown and practiced when it comes to the deceased and their burial. Burial plots of deceased family and ancestors are held in reverence, the gravestone markers are visited and decorated at least once a year, if not more. The gravestone memorials of heroes and leaders are held in even greater esteem.

At Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, DC can be found acre after acre of the burial plots of many of this nation’s fallen veterans representing all branches of military service. Many were killed in battle, many were not. In this awe-inspiring piece of ground there is a particular setting that overlooks that national cemetery.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier encompasses that entirety of the meaning of the burials and monuments that dot the landscape surrounding the Tomb. The respect shown for this resting place of another American soldier is something special.

To this day, the identity of the individual whose remains lie beneath the white Colorado marble is unknown, but his death in war, his anonymity, is a sacrifice that represents not just this soldier but the thousands buried at Arlington and the hundreds of cemeteries set aside for American deceased here in this country. The Tomb also stands out to represent memorials in the many lands where Americans had died and were buried in the immediate vicinities of the many battles and wars they were participants in.

A local veteran was honored recently by being chosen, along with three other veterans, to be part of the wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown soldier. In early September, Chuck Bloxham of Waukon and his wife, Max, were part of an Iowa Veterans bus tour of the historical sites in Washington, DC and the surrounding area.

The touring group was able to visit the Gettysburg battlefield, the Navy, Marine, Army and Air Force museums, the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, and the Martin Luther King Memorial. The World War II Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial, the Iwo Jima Memorial, and a visit to the Shanksville, PA field where Flight 93 went down during 9/11 was also visited.

When Chuck and Max had disembarked off the bus at the World War II Memorial, there waiting for them were their kids, son Jason and daughter Jenny Stegen. Their presence was a total surprise but there was a reason for their surprise attendance.

When the planned visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was scheduled, the D.C. Honor Tour drew four names representing one each of the four branches of military service. Air Force Veteran Jim Balik of Spillville, Marine Veteran Larry Trende from Cresco and Army Veteran Richard Murray of Decorah were all chosen, along with Navy Veteran Chuck Bloxham.

These four veterans were selected to continue a tradition of laying the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a ceremony not only conducted in this country but in numerous countries across the world. The first Unknown Soldier Tombs were set aside in England and France after World War I, and the United States began its honoring in 1921 on Armistice Day, November 11, 11:00 a.m., commemorating the official end of the “Great War”.

Max, Jason and Jenny got to witness a nervous Chuck - “I was praying that I don’t trip or fall,” he said - with his three veteran comrades complete the instructions given them to prepare for the wreath ceremony. Chuck had witnessed this ceremony of the changing of the guard 23 years prior, but this experience was a whole lot different.

“We were instructed to go up the steps behind the barracks leading to the top of the memorial looking down at the tomb. A member of the Tomb Guard gave us instructions and asked if we have any questions.  He was very pleasant but all business,” remembers this 75-year-old Navy Veteran from Waukon. “Wearing white gloves, he shook our hands and I noticed his hand was wet (the gloves are moistened so their hands don’t slip off the rifle they carry). Another guard brings the Iowa Wreath front and center, and announces the group. We then proceed down the steps with a guard member walking with us, and the two veterans in front help lay the wreath on the holder then join the other two for Salute and Taps.”

Being one of the two veterans to actually lay the wreath in place, this emotional ceremony flooded Chuck’s memory with the past of family members and their contribution to serving this country. This Navy Veteran, serving from 1966-1970, was stationed on the aircraft carrier USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31) deployed off the coast of Vietnam in the Tonkin Gulf and then transferred to the USS Tripoli (LPH-10) amphibious assault ship landing Marines in DaNang. His service was part of a strong family tradition of participating in the Armed Forces.

Chuck was certainly no stranger to military service, so his past was recalled as he thought of his dad, Keith Bloxham, and seven uncles that served before him. His Uncle Charles was killed in New Guinea by a sniper in World War II. Charles’ brother, Jim Bloxham, was with him that day in the Battle of Lone Tree Hill. Two other uncles survived the D-Day invasion at Normandy and two others served in Korea.

Participating in laying the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was not only the greatest honor in his life, but for Chuck, his family’s history in serving their country added a special significance. If there is anything missing in that feeling of honor, Chuck said that it would be that his father passed away before the World War II Memorial was completed and his desire to view that memorial with his father was never realized.

The entire trip to Washington and the tour was something special for Chuck, and being able to share it with his wife, Max, and his children, Jason and Jenny (who made the trip to see their dad at the wreath ceremony), added to the moment. He felt fortunate that the tour included so many veterans to share the experience, including Dan the bus driver, and an ex-Marine for a tour guide. Chuck certainly appreciates the outstanding tour guides the group had, and he says if anyone is interested in taking such a tour they should send an email to iavetsDC@yahoo.com expressing their interest.

For one local veteran, this tour to the nation’s capitol was more than just a trip, it was a momentous, once-in-a-lifetime experience. The honor to represent his state and other veterans at the wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was undoubtedly special, but for Chuck Bloxham there was the added feeling that those past family members who had also served must have been looking down and sharing that experience right with him.