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21 Steps of Honor

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington, VA

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington, VA

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier: What do you know about it?

1. How many steps does the guard take during his walk across the Tomb of the Unknowns and why? 21 steps

It alludes to the twenty-one gun salute, which is the highest honor given any military or foreign dignity.

2. How long does he hesitate after his about face to begin his return walk and why?

21 seconds; for the same reason as Number 1.

3. Why are his gloves wet?

His gloves are moistened to prevent him from losing his grip on the rifle. 

4. Does he carry his rifle on the same shoulder all the time and if not, why not?

He carries the rifle on the shoulder away from the tomb. After his march across the path, he executes an about face and moves the rifle to the outside shoulder.

5. How often are the guards changed?

Guards are changed every thirty minutes, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year.

6. What are the physical traits of the guards limited to?

For a person to apply for guard duty at the tomb, he must be between 5′ 10″ and 6′ 2″ tall and his waist cannot exceed 30 inches. They must commit 2 years of life to guard the tomb, live in the barracks under the tomb, and cannot drink alcohol on or off duty for the rest of their lives. They cannot swear in public for the rest of their lives and cannot disgrace the uniform or the tomb in any way. After two years, the guard is given a wreath pin that is worn on their lapel signifying they have served as a guard of the tomb. There are only 400 presently worn. The guard must obey these rules for the rest of his life or give up the wreath pin. The shoes are specially made with very thick soles to keep the heat and cold from their feet. There are metal plates that extend to the top of the shoe in order to make the load click as they come to a halt. There are no wrinkles, folds or lint on the uniform. Guards dress for duty in front of a full-length mirror. 

The first six months of duty a guard cannot talk to anyone nor watch TV. All off time duty is spent studying the 175 notable people laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. A Guard must memorize who they are and where they are interred. Among the notables are: President John F Kennedy,  Joe Lewis (the boxer), Medal of Honor recipient Audie L Murphy, the most decorated soldier of WWII, General George Patton IV, and many others.

Every guard spends five hours a day getting his uniforms ready for guard duty. In 2003 as Hurricane Isabelle was approaching Washington, DC, our US Senate and House took two days off from the anticipation of the dangers from the storm. The military members assigned the duty of guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier were given permission to suspend their assignment. They respectfully declined. Soaked to the skin, marching in the pelting rain of a tropical storm, they said that guarding the Tomb was not just an assignment; it was the highest honor that can be afforded to a service person. The Tomb has been patrolled continuously, 24/7, since 1930. Let us remember the guards this day and the Unknown Soldier.

ETERNAL REST GRANT THEM O LORD AND LET PERPETUAL LIGHT SHINE UPON THEM.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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