Sunday, May 25, 2008

Home of the free...

...because of the brave.

Memorial Day commemorates the U.S. service men and women who've perished in service to our country: those who've fought on foreign soils fighting the good fight, and those who remained here in the good ol' U.S. of A. providing the support necessary on all levels, from logistical to familial.

As much as we'd like to honor all men and women by name, there are a select few who are known only to God, and whose remains are afforded the utmost respect and protection: those interred in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The guard takes twenty-one steps during his walk in front of the tomb. After his about-face, he also pauses for twenty-one seconds before his return passage. The twenty-one alludes to the twenty-one gun salute, the highest honor given any military or foreign dignitary.

The guards gloves are moistened to prevent his losing his grip on the rifle. The rifle is carried on the shoulder facing away from the tomb. After he about-faces, he transfers the rifle to the outside shoulder.

The guards are changed every thirty minutes, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year.

Guards must be between 5' 10" and 6' 2", and his waist size cannot exceed 30". They must commit two years of their life to guard the tomb, live in barracks under the tomb, and cannot drink alcohol on or off duty, or swear in public for the rest of their lives. They cannot disgrace the uniform or the 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 four hundred 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 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 US Senate & House took two 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 of the Unknown Soldier were given permission to suspend the assignment. They respectfully declined the offer, "No way, Sir!" Soaked to the skin, marching in the pelting rain of a tropical storm, they said that guarding the Tomb was not just an assignment, it was the highest honor that can be afforded to a serviceman.

The tomb has been patrolled continuously, 24/7, since 1930.

For more information, visit The Tomb of the Unknown at Arlington National Cemetery or Society of the Honor Guard - Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.


K.M. Saint James said...

What a cool story.

Thanks, Jen for finding it and sharing.

L.A. Mitchell said...

Such a powerful thing to witness first-hand. Something every American should see.

Nice reminder, Jen. Thanks :)