CLAIM

Item describes the duties and obligations of honor guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. See Example(s)

EXAMPLES
Collected via e-mail, June 2004

HONOR GUARD AT ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY

INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT THE TOMB OF THE UNKNOWNS

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 dignitary.

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

21 seconds for the same reason as answer number 1.

3. Why are his gloves wet?

His gloves are moistened to prevent his 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 guard 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 size cannot exceed 30.”

Other requirements of the Guard:

They must commit 2 years of life to guard the tomb, live in a barracks under the tomb, and cannot drink any 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 {fighting} or the tomb in any way.

After two years, the guard is given a wreath pin that is worn on their lapel signifying they served as guard of the tomb. There are only 400 presently worn. The guard must obey these rules for the rest of their lives 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 heel plates that extend to the top of the shoe in order to make the loud 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 duty time 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 Taft, Joe E. Lewis (the boxer), and Medal of Honor winner Audie Murphy (the most decorated soldier of WWII) of Hollywood fame. Every guard spends five hours a day getting his uniforms ready for guard duty.

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RATING

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ORIGIN

As a society, we have long observed traditional, solemn funereal ceremonies as a means of remembering, honoring, and mourning those who have passed on from this life to whatever lies beyond. As a nation, we observe some very formalized rituals as a means of affording our very highest honors to members of the armed forces who have died in the service of their country, particularly those who have fallen in wartime. Military funerals with honor guards, flag-draped coffins, salutes, and burials in cemeteries set aside for veterans are all symbols by which we honor and acknowledge our gratitude to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

There is perhaps no more potent symbol of this sacrifice than the “unknown soldier,” the serviceman who has died in combat but whose remains are not identifiable. He cannot be returned to his home, his friends and loved ones cannot know for certain how or when (or even if) he died, he cannot be placed to rest in a site of his own choosing. He remains, perpetually, a soldier who not only gave up his life for his country, but his very identity as well. That loss of identity makes the unknown soldier a powerful symbol, however — because he is no longer an individual, he stands for the purest ideals of courage, valor, and sacrifice and serves as a noble and selfless representation of service to one’s country.

We acknowledge our unidentified fallen heroes with a special place of reverence in our most honored of burial grounds: the Tomb of the Unknowns (also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) in Arlington National Cemetery (ANC), where in 1921 we first laid to rest “In Honored Glory An American Soldier Known But To God.” Although we cannot inter all of our unidentifed war dead in Arlington, we nonetheless honor them all by including the remains of three representative soldiers of unknown identity who died in foreign wars (World War I, World War II, and the Korean War) there. (Beginning in 1984 the tomb also held the remains of a serviceman killed in the Vietnam War, but after DNA testing confirmed his identity in 1998, his remains were disinterred and returned to his family. The crypt of the Vietnam Unknown has remained empty ever since.)

The most visible honorific symbol associated with the Tomb of the Unknowns is that the site is guarded around the clock, every day of the year, by specially trained members of the Third United States Infantry Regiment (also known as the “Old Guard“). The Sentinels who guard the Tomb must be exemplary in discipline, dress, and bearing; thoroughly knowlegeable with the history of their unit, the Tomb of the Unknowns, Arlington National Cemetery (and those interred there), and the U.S. Army; and able to execute a variety of ceremonial rites flawlessly and with precision.

Someone apparently wanted to highlight the special qualities and training required to be a guard at Tomb of the Unknowns by creating the widely-circulated message quoted above, a list mixing fact and fiction which we’ll try to sort out below:

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 dignitary.

The guards do make 21-step walks past the Tomb of the Unknowns because 21 is considered a number of special significance, a topic discussed on our page about the origins of the 21-gun salute.

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

21 seconds for the same reason as answer number 1.