Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy 4th: The Tomb of the Unknowns

Many will be posting today about fireworks and picnics, family gatherings and parades, and these are all wonderful subjects in which I too hope to participate over the holiday. I am going to choose instead on a day that I don't normally post, to pass on a bit of obscure information that I was able to dig up from a number of websites out there on a little more somber subject, the monument to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to provide the very independence that we celebrate on this day.

This came home to me while recently attending a Reunion in Quantico, VA of my late father's Marine Corp Battalion (something that I did last year ). During the trip this year, we visited the grave site of their commanding officer, Colonel Peck, in Arlington National Cemetery. While touring the cemetery, we passed, but did not stop, at the Tomb of the Unknowns, something that I had hoped to do and truly regret foregoing. We were on the way to the Evening Parade at the Marine Barracks on 8th & I however, and one does not keep the Marines waiting. I promise that I will regale you in the future with some of the other things I was exposed to during that visit, but in the meantime, I would like to share with you some of what you might never have known, and I was recently enlightened about: 

Tomb of the Unknowns

  1. The tomb contains the unidentified remains of a soldier who served in: World War I, World War II, Korea, and Viet Nam, and has been guarded continuously since 1930.
  2. The Guards are members of the 3rd US Infantry Regiment (the Old Guard), and wear no rank insignia on their uniforms while on duty so as not to outrank one of those lying in the Tomb.
  3. The Guards take 21 steps, in recognition of the 21 gun salute; the highest honor given anyone in the military or any foreign dignitary.
  4. Upon completion of those steps, the guards hesitate 21 seconds in memory of that same honor, turns 90 degrees and hesitates again for 21 seconds, before completing another 90 degrees and hesitates one more time before resuming his march.
  5. The Guards march with moistened gloves to prevent the gun from slipping from their grasp while on duty.
  6. Guards are changed every 30 minutes; 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
  7. The guards always carry the rifle on the shoulder furthest from the tomb. This move places the sentinel between the tomb and any threat.
  8. The Guards of the Tomb, an honor currently carried by just over 500 people, is awarded only after careful examination (and noted by the award of a wreath pin). They subsequently live under very strict guidelines for the rest of their lives.
  9. For the first 6 months of this duty, guards spend most of their free time learning of the most notable people buried in Arlington in preparation for their exam. With their rigorous training, hours of marching, and rifle drill, they have little time for anything else.
  10. Each guard spends five hours each day getting his uniforms ready for this duty.
  11. In 2003, as Hurricane Isabella approached Washington and while Congress took 2 days off in anticipation of the dangers of this storm, these guards stood their duty. Soaked to the skin, they continued to march their rounds in the pelting rain of a tropical storm. They had been offered the opportunity to suspend this assignment; but refused, stating that such duty was not simply an assignment, but was the highest honor afforded to a serving member of the military.
Honor indeed to those of our troops serving in defense of freedom around the world today, to those who have in every conflict where Americans have served, and to those who gave all for the men that they served with and for their country.
(Keep an eye out for an additional posting relating to the Holiday as my regular Saturday effort.) 



Roland Hansen said...

I remember my visit to Arlington National Cemetery. It was quite a moving emotional experience.

Tim Higgins said...


Anyone who can stand in that place and remain untouched has no heart or soul.

Moose Tracks said...

Higgs, loved the article but a couple of minor items are in error. Might want to check out the details on Snopes and edit the post just a bit.

Tim Higgins said...


Thanks for the heads up. I have edited this post to more accurately reflect something that deserves all of the accuracy that we can give it.