Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Guard

Lois Schaefer, Dept of ND VFW Auxiliary

Soldiers of the 4th Battalion of the Army’s 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment watch over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. The Tomb is dedicated to deceased U.S. Soldiers whose remains have not been identified. The remains of a soldier from each of the four American foreign wars were interred within the tomb until 1988 when the Vietnam War soldier was identified by DNA Testing.    

Tomb Guards, called Sentinels, are chosen only after rigorous training and examinations. They must also memorize seven pages of Arlington National Cemetery history and the grave locations of nearly 300 veterans.

The average length of duty for guards at the memorial is 18 months. The Sentinels must be in superb physical condition and possess an unblemished military record. Men must be 5’10”-6’4” tall and women 5’8”-6”2” tall, with both proportionate in weight and build.

Lauren Bruner, Ken Potts and Donald Stratton, survivors of the 1941 Japanese bombing of the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor, lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unkowns at Arlington National Cemetery, July 21, 2017.

They stand watch over the Tomb 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in any weather, to ensure the continued respect and security of one of our nation’s most sacred symbols. In summer months April 1 through September 30, Changing of the Guard occurs every half hour. From October 1 to March 31, Changing of the Guard occurs every hour, on the hour; and during nighttime hours, every 2 hours.

The Tomb Guard takes 21 steps down the black mat behind the Tomb, turns 90 degrees, faces east for 21 seconds, turns 90 degrees, and faces north for 21 seconds, then makes his return walk of 21 steps down the mat. He repeats this process until the next changing of the guard. The significance of “21” alludes to the twenty-one-gun salute, the highest honor given any military or foreign dignitary. They are not permitted to speak or break their march unless someone enters the restricted area around the Tomb. Out of respect for the dead, the guards carry the rifle on their outside shoulder, always away from the Tomb.

The Sentinels wear the Army dress blue uniform, reminiscent of the color and style worn by soldiers during the late 1880s. Their shoes have steel tips and heel plates for support and to prevent wear. The steel plates make a clicking sound when the guards come to a halt. Their gloves are moistened to prevent losing their grip on the rifle. They spend many hours each day preparing their unforms and keeping them and their rifles in immaculate condition. For the rests of their lives, they must live an honorable life, and they cannot disgrace the uniform in any way. Taken from the Arlington National Cemetery website

K. William Boyer is the Managing Editor of the Devils Lake News Journal. He can be reached at kboyer@gannett.com, or by phone at (701) 662-2127.  

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