I was thinking about trying to put together something appropriate for a Memorial Day posting for the occasion. Then I remembered a compilation piece that I did from last year on the 4th of July. While the entire posting is not necessarily appropriate to the day, the information that I dug up from various sites on the Tomb of the Unknowns is especially so. I would like to share it with you again here.
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 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 the:
- 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.
- 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.
- The Guards take 21 steps, in recognition of the 21 gun salute; the highest honor given anyone in the military or any foreign dignitary.
- 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 degree turn and hesitates one more time before resuming his march.
- The Guards march with moistened gloves to prevent the gun from slipping from their grasp while on duty.
- Guards are changed every 30 minutes; 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
- The guards always carry the rifle on the shoulder furthest from the tomb. This move places the sentinel between the tomb and any threat.
- 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.
- 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 ahve little time for anything else.
- Each guard spends five hours each day getting his uniforms ready for this duty.
- 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.