Arlington National Cemetery: RedState's Tribute to America's Heroes on Hallowed Ground

Townhall Media/Jennifer Van Laar

(EDITOR'S NOTE: This piece was originally published on February 23, 2024.)

After finding out that CPAC was going to be held in Washington D.C. this year, and having never attended CPAC before, I decided to attend. The decision was not a hard one to make -- it’s a presidential election year, it’s in our nation’s capital, so let’s go! 


But there was another reason that was driving my desire to go, one that I firmly believe was the most important part of it all. Since my time in the Marine Corps and my time in combat, I have never been able to make it to D.C. so I could visit Arlington National Cemetery. A brother Marine of mine is buried there in Section 60, and being able to take the time to visit him, pay my respects, and honor him and all the other heroes that are laid to rest there would be an honor that I could never turn down. 

As I was planning my trip, I was able to help organize a contingent of RedState contributors to lay a wreath at the Tomb of The Unknown Soldier. I asked for and received permission from the staff at Arlington National Cemetery to do just that, and without skipping a beat, Townhall Media executives offered to pay for the wreath that we would present. When I first started to plan this, I had no idea that it would motivate so many people to join and or support me doing this. 

On Thursday, February 22nd I made the journey from my hotel to the Cemetery. During my short trip to Arlington, my mind was racing, thinking about the honor of placing a wreath at the Tomb of The Unknown Soldier and telling myself not to screw it up. But I was also thinking of my brother Marine who is resting in Section 60. Corporal Ian Thomas Zook was killed in action on October 12th, 2004 during our second deployment to Iraq. Corporal Zook was assigned to CAAT Red (Combined Anti-Armor Team) and was killed as we were responding to an ambush of another one of our units in a small city called Husaybah, which is located in the Al Anbar Province of western Iraq, on the border with Syria. He was 24 years old.


Zook is a hero, a genuine hero, along with all the Brothers we lost on that deployment, and he is buried in a sea of fellow American heroes in Section 60 and all of Arlington - and let's not forget the 155 other National Cemeteries across the country. I consider myself a hardened man, not generally prone to show feelings or get emotional. The things I have experienced in my 42-plus years of life, especially my time in combat and as a Deputy Sheriff, have given me that ability. However, as soon as I stepped foot onto those hallowed grounds, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I hopped on a bus to take me to Zook’s grave and headstone and said hello to an old Brother and spoke to him silently. I let him know he was missed by so many and that his memory and spirit will never die. I placed my quarter on top of his headstone and said my final goodbye.I was off to pay respects to the soldiers known but to God with my RedState companions.

Managing Editor Jennifer Van Laar and I would be the ones to present and lay the wreath in front of the Tomb that day. When we arrived, we watched the Tomb Sentinels conduct the changing of the guard before we were to conduct the wreath-laying ceremony. Being able to personally watch the Sentinels from the Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment, The Old Guard, patrol the grounds of the Tomb is nothing short of amazing. The honor, precision, dedication, and expertise these men and women display bring you both joy and pride. But it also brings you sadness and reverence for what the act truly means. 


Jennifer and I watched, along with the other RedState team in attendance, as the Sentinel paced back and forth in front of the Tomb, taking exactly 21 paces with the rifle on his shoulder, facing the Tomb, and pausing for 21 seconds before turning to walk 21 paces to the other side. All this is done in complete silence, except for the Sentinel’s shoes as they click as he walks and turns. As we both were met by the host and briefed on what was about to take place and what we needed to do, the gravity of the event dawned on me. Jennifer and I were about to do what Americans can only do with express permission -- approach the Tomb and place a wreath to honor the fallen warriors known but to God.

I can safely speak for all of us from RedState who attended, and even those who couldn't make it, that the ceremony was incredibly powerful and hit home to everyone. To visit Arlington National Cemetery in general is a very powerful experience, but to also be able to honor the Unknowns humbles you. It brings a lot of things into perspective.

Being able to finally make it to Arlington National Cemetery to visit my Brother Ian Zook was something I have been wanting to do for 20 years. But I have finally said my goodbyes to a man I last saw on October 12th, 2004. I finally got to see him again and now I am honored with the ability to tell the world about Ian Thomas Zook, Corporal of Marines, American Hero. I was further honored, along with my colleague Jennifer Van Laar, to be able to lay a wreath on behalf of RedState and Townhall Media, in front of the Tomb of The Unknown Soldier. America is a better nation because of these men and women buried at Arlington, and we owe our lives to them.



Reflections on Arlington National Cemetery, and Those We Have Lost


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