Tomb of Unknown replica

A replica of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is shown in front of the Wall of Honor at LeRoy American Legion Post 79. A 24-hour vigil at the replica will commence at noon Thursday, which is Veterans Day.

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LeROY — Matt Kreeb said he’s jealous.

The former guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was asked to show those who are manning a replica of the tomb the proper procedures as performed at the real deal in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. He was impressed that volunteers wanted everything to be accurate down to the letter.

“I was impressed. Not just a little impressed,” said Kreeb, a Fisher resident. “Wow! They said, ‘We’re not interested in how to make it easy.’ They wanted to do it like how it’s done” at Arlington.

A 24-hour honor guard will be set up on Veterans Day at the replica tomb at LeRoy American Legion Post 79. The replica was lent by an Effingham military organization.

Mark Young, a past post commander, said this year marks the 100th anniversary of the famous tomb in Arlington, Va.

“We are honoring them by doing a vigil Veterans Day at noon,” Young said. “Every half hour we will be changing the guard.”

An open ceremony will be held at 11:45 a.m.

To date, 43 volunteers have signed up to take a half-hour shift. They hail from 11 communities and five different military organizations — American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Amvets, VAC and Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors.

Kreeb was the 510th guard to serve at the tomb in Arlington, from 2002 to 2005. The ceremonial guards work more than 100 hours a week — 26 hours on, 22 hours off.

Service is demanding. There are no days off, even if a guard is badly ill. Their roles are threefold — the duties of changing of the guard and flag-folding; spit and polish for the uniform, which takes an average of six hours a day; and knowledge of the cemetery and the tomb.

It’s easier to become a Navy SEAL than to become a guard at the tomb in Arlington.

Kreeb led a training session in LeRoy last month. Additional training sessions conducted by LeRoy Legion personnel have also been held, with the final one Friday.

“They’re trying to do it right,” Kreeb said of the volunteers, adding that the tomb replica is set up perfectly.

“The sidewalk was set up before we had this idea,” he said. “It was spot-on centered where they have the tomb replica. I stepped off my 21 steps. It was centered perfectly. This could not have been designed any better. That’s just the way it worked out.”

He said the volunteers want everything to be exact, from the pacing to the pauses to the handling of the rifles to the wording between guards on shift change.

“I’ve seen vigils like this before,” Kreeb said. “Never ever have I seen people looking for extreme accuracy like this. I was really blown away.”

Each participant will receive a 100th anniversary patch and lapel pin and certificate signed by Kreeb.

Kreeb said the LeRoy group is “the sharpest, most well-organized Legion I’ve ever seen. I’m mildly jealous. They have such good membership involved. There were like 30 to 40 people jumping in. It wasn’t just three of four.”

The tomb replica is set up in front of a wall of honor that the Legion post dedicated on Memorial Day 2017. It bears the names of 1,650-plus veterans who either lived, graduated, were born or were a member of the LeRoy post from World War I to the present.

“It’s not a memorial; it’s a wall of honor,” Young said. “As long as you serve your country, you’re eligible.”

Our County Editor

Dave Hinton is editor of The News-Gazette's Our County section and former editor of the Rantoul Press. He can be reached at dhinton@news-gazette.com.

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