tomb of the unknown soldiers
may 25, 2014
The time is near where we celebrate the federal holiday called Memorial Day where we remember all the men and women who died while serving our country. Memorial Day, the last day of May and formerly known as Decoration Day, honored the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. The name changed from Decoration Day to Memorial Day during the 1900s and the honor extended to remember all men and women who died serving our country. The name changed to Memorial Day.
Preparation for honoring our fallen soldiers begins before the actual day. Flags are placed at each tombstone in the Arlington National Cemetery each year for Memorial Day, as well as cemeteries across our nation.
I have had the privilege of visiting Arlington National Cemetery. The rows of tombstones are breathtaking. Imagine, each stone represents someone who served our country. No wonder the men who guard their tombs are under such strict rules that last a lifetime.
The changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers is also an awesome experience. In researching the changing of the guard to add to this article, Dan Reed of the Plano Sons of the Revolutionary War (SAR), had valuable information on the procedure he forwarded to me.
- The guard takes twenty-one steps across the tomb of the Unknowns and hesitates twenty-one seconds after his about face before walking back. The number twenty-one alludes to the twenty-one gun salute—the highest honor given any military or foreign dignitary.
- The guards’ gloves are damp to prevent losing his grip on the rifle he carries.
- The guards carry the rifle always on the shoulder away from the tomb. After each march across he executes an about face and moves the rifle to the outside shoulder.
- The guards are changed every thirty minutes, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year.
- A guard must be between five-foot-10 inches to six-foot-two inches tall and his waist size cannot exceed thirty inches in diameter.
- A guard must commit two years of his life to guard the tomb, live in the barracks under the tomb, and cannot drink any alcohol on or off duty, swear in public for the rest of their lives. They cannot disgrace the uniform or 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. Every guard spends five hours a day getting his uniforms ready for guard duty.
- 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 Lewis (the boxer) and Medal of Honor winner Audie L. Murphy of Farmersville, Texas, who is the most decorated soldier of WWII, and later a movie star.
Brenda Kellow has a bachelor's degree in history, teaches, and lectures on genealogy. Before retiring to publish her family’s histories in 2007, Brenda held certification as a Certified Genealogist and as a Certified Genealogical Instructor. Send reunion announcements, books to review, and genealogy queries to: firstname.lastname@example.org.