Tomb of The Unknown Soldier
Some friends recently visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington, Virginia. They were extremely impressed by the professionalism of the guards. Based on their report, I decided to do some research and came up with some interesting facts.
Throughout history, many soldiers have died in wars without their remains being identified. In modern times, nations have developed the practice of having a symbolic Tomb of the Unknown Soldier that represents the war grave of those unidentified soldiers. They usually contain the remains of a dead soldier who is unidentified (or "known but to God" as the stone is sometimes inscribed) and thought to be impossible ever to identify, so that he might serve as a symbol for all of the unknown dead wherever they fell. The anonymity of the entombed soldier is key to the symbolism of the monument: since his or her identity is unknown, it could theoretically be the tomb of anyone who fell in service of the nation in question, and therefore serves as a monument to all of their sacrifices.
The Tomb contains the remains of unknown American soldiers from World Wars I and II, the Korean Conflict and (until 1998) the Vietnam War. Each was presented with the Medal of Honor at the time of interment and the medals, as well as the flags which covered their caskets, are on display inside the Memorial Amphitheater, directly to the rear of the Tomb.
The Tomb is guarded 24-hours-per-day and 365-days-per year by specially trained members of the 3rd United States Infantry (The Old Guard).
The sentinel takes 21 steps during his walk across the tomb because it alludes to the twenty-one gun salute, which is the highest honor given any military or foreign dignitary.
Before any soldier is allowed "a walk", he must memorize seven pages of history on Arlington National Cemetery and then recite it verbatim. If a soldier finishes this phase and is granted "a walk", he enters a new phase of training known as "new-soldier training". In addition to extensive training in the manual of arms, the guard change ceremony, and the intricacies of military ritual, the new-soldier is required to memorize the grave locations of nearly 300 veterans,
It may take months for a soldier to earn the right to test to wear the coveted silver Tomb Guard Identification badge, and even then, the award is temporary. Only after the sentinel has served at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for nine months does the award become permanent.
The Tomb Guard Identification Badge is awarded after the Sentinel passes a series of tests. The Badge is permanently awarded after a Sentinel has served 9 months as a Sentinel at the Tomb. Less than 550 have been awarded since its creation in the late 1950's. (The only badge awarded fewer times is the Astronaut Badge.)
The shoes worn by the sentinels are a story in themselves. They are standard issue military dress shoes, built up so the sole and heel are equal in height. This allows the sentinel to stand so that his back is straight and perpendicular to the ground. A side effect of this is that the sentinel can "roll" on the outside of the build up as he walks down the mat. This allows him to move in a fluid fashion. If he does this correctly, his hat and bayonet will appear to not "bob" up and down with each step. It gives him a more formal and smooth look to his walk, rather than a "marching" appearance.
Then there is the "clicker". It is a shank of steel attached to the inside of the face of the heel build-up on each shoe. It allows the sentinel to click his heels during certain movements. If a guard change is really hot, it is called a "smoker" because all the heel clicks fall together and sound like one click. In fact, the guard change is occasionally done in the "silent" mode (as a sign of devotion to the Unknowns"). No voice commands - every thing is done in relation to the heel clicks and on specific counts.
The Tomb is guarded 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There has been a sentinel on duty in front of the Tomb every minute of every day since 1937. And the sentinel does not change the way he guards the Tomb, even at night when there is no one around.
Words to live bye:
*My dedication to this sacred duty is total and wholehearted. In the responsibility bestowed on me never will I falter.
*And with dignity and perseverance my standard will remain perfection.
*Through the years of diligence and praise and the discomfort of the elements,
*I will walk my tour in humble reverence to the best of my ability. It is he who commands the respect I protect. His bravery that made us so proud.
*Surrounded by well meaning crowds by day, alone in the thoughtful peace of night, this soldier will in honored glory rest under my eternal vigilance.
* The Sentinels Creed
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