Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington Cemetery

Here Rests In Honored Glory An American Soldier Known But To God

The Tomb of the Unknowns, located near the center of Arlington Cemetery, is one of America’s most popular tourist sites. It 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.

Often referred to as “The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,” it is guarded 24-hours-per-day and 365-days-per year by specially trained members of the 3rd United States Infantry… “The Old Guard”.

Here are some incredibly important and amazing facts that everyone should know…

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 to any military or foreign dignitary.

How long does a guard hesitate after his about face to begin his return walk, and why?
21 seconds — for the same reason as answer number 1.

Why are a guard’s gloves always wet?
His gloves are moistened to prevent losing his grip on his rifle.

Does he carry his rifle on the same shoulder all the time and, if not, why?
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 his outside shoulder.

How often are the guards to the Tomb changed?
Guards are changed every 30 minutes, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year.

What are the physical traits of a 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 inches. Other requirements of Guards: They must commit 2 years of life to guard the Tomb, live in a barracks under the tomb, and they 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 they cannot disgrace the uniform (ie. fighting) or the Tomb in any way. After two years of this service, guards are given a wreath pin that is worn on their lapels signifying they served as guards of the Tomb. There are only about 400 presently worn today. Guards are expected to obey all of these rules, for the rest of their lives, or give up their distinguished wreath pin.

Their 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 their uniforms at any time. Guards spend hours every day getting their uniforms ready for Guard duty and they dress 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.


In 2003, as Hurricane Isabelle was approaching Washington, DC, our U.S. Senate and House took 2 days off with 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 were given permission to suspend the assignment. They respectfully declined the offer saying, “No way, Sir!” Soaked to the skin, marching in the pelting rain of this tropical storm, they said that 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 continuously, 24/7, since 1930.

The Sentinels Creed

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.


As an American, I am incredibly proud of our military men and women. Please send this to anyone who may be interested in knowing these facts. Thank you.

Photo courtesy of the Department of Defense.



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