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You are here: Home Opinion Paula I. Bryant A dedicated call to duty

A dedicated call to duty

While doing some end of year cleaning — you know throwing away last year’s clutter to make room for more in the coming year — I ran across some information my dearly departed friend and colleague Sonny Riddle may have used to write a column years ago.

The papers contained all sorts of information regarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery.

If you have ever visited the tomb and observed the guards, it really is an awesome sight, something you won’t soon forget. 

I found fascinating all that is involved in the guarding of the tomb, so I thought I’d share some of this information with our readers.

So just how many steps does the guard take during his walk across the Tomb of the Unknowns? 

The answer is 21. 

The number of steps alludes to the 21-gun salute, which is the highest honor given any military or foreign dignitary.

At the end of his walk across the Tomb, each guard executes an about-face and hesitates 21 seconds before beginning his return walk. Again, the 21 seconds refers to the 21-gun salute.

 The gloves worn by each guard are moistened, to prevent his losing his grip on his rifle. Another interesting fact is that the guard does not carry his rifle on the same shoulder all the time. He carries his 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.

 Guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier are changed every 30 minutes, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Strict regulations have been established regarding the physical traits of a guard at the tomb.

For a soldier 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 inches.

 A guard must commit two years of his life to guard the tomb, live in a barracks under the tomb, and he cannot drink any alcohol on or off duty for the rest of his life. He also cannot swear in public for the remainder of his life and cannot disgrace his uniform or the tomb in any way.

After two years, the guard is given a wreath pin that is worn on his lapel signifying he has served as a guard of the tomb. There are only 400 presently worn. The guard must obey these rules for the rest of his life or give up the wreath pin.

 The shoes worn by each guard are made with very thick soles to keep the heat and cold from his feet. There are metal heel plates that extend to the top of the shoe in order to make the loud click as he comes to a halt. There are no wrinkles, folds or lint on the uniform, and each guard dresses for duty in front of a full-length mirror. Every guard spends five hours a day getting his uniforms ready for guard duty.

  For the first six months of duty, a guard cannot talk to anyone or 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.

 In 2003 as Hurricane Isabelle was approaching Washington, D.C., the United States Senate and House of Representatives took off two days in anticipation of the storm. On the ABC evening news, it was reported that because of the dangers from the hurricane, the military members assigned the duty of guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier were given permission to suspend the assignment. They respectfully declined the offer with a, “No way, Sir!”

Soaked to the skin, marching in the pelting rain of a tropical storm, they said guarding the tomb was not just an assignment, it was the highest honor that can be afforded to a service person. The tomb has been patrolled continually, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, since 1930.

Now that is true dedication. God bless these men.



Happy New Year from The Gazette staff.