Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

I got this e-mail forward from my dad. Usually I delete these things, but I found this one very interesting and thought-provoking…


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 any military or foreign dignitary.

How long does he hesitate after his about-face to begin his return walk and why?

21 seconds for the same reason as above.

Why are his gloves wet?

His gloves are moistened to prevent his losing his grip on the rifle.

How often are the guards changed?

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

What are the physical traits of the 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".

Other requirements of the Guard: they must commit 2 years of life to guard the tomb, live in a barracks under the tomb, and 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 cannot disgrace the uniform (fighting) 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 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.

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 Cemetary. A guard must memorize who they are and where they are interred.

Among the notables are: President Taft, Joe E. Lewis, and Medal of Honor winnder Audie Murphy of Hollywood fame. Every guard spends five hours a day getting his uniform ready for guard duty.

In 2003 as Hurricane Isabelle was approaching Washington D.C., our U.S. Senate/House took 2 days off with anticipation of the storm. On the ABC evening news, it was reported that because of dangers from the hurricane, the military members assigned to the duty of guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier were given permission to suspend the assignment.

They respectfully declined the offer. 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 serviceperson. The Tomb has been patrolled continuously, 24/7, since 1930.

I’ve always felt that the concept of “respect” is one that gets thrown around haphazardly, usually with little true knowledge of what the word means. For that reason, it’s refreshing to see a true example of respect such as this one.

On a lighter note… 6’2" with a 30" waist? Not bad… and those of you who have seen the changing of the guard, you know that most of those guys don’t appear to be skinny.


Thanks, v.


I got to witness the changing of the guard about 8 years ago. Very inspiring, and no the guards are not “skinny” by any means.

Incredible. 1,314,000 times there has been a changing of the guard. No stopping.

It is a humbling experience to see the tomb of the unknown soldier and the guard. Duty, Honor and country is not lost on them.

If you watched the funeral of President Reagan, the guard were the soldiers who drove the hearse, carried the coffin and stood watch. I watched the trooper who walked the riderless horse. He held that animal for about 3 hours without flinching. It bucked the entire procession. Impressive focus. He didn’t miss a step.

Reading this provided a crucial bit of perspective for me in a lot of ways, especially after gorging myself over the holidays… there are a lot of people (myself included) who find it very difficult to give up luxuries like weekly pizza and beer, while the soldiers above vow to give up things like cursing, social interaction and other very basic aspects of daily life in order to honor those who fell before them… normal people make comments to me like “Oh, you’re so committed!” when I eat a salad instead of a cheeseburger, but that doesn’t mean a damn thing compared to the sacrifices of the guards, or the fallen soldiers over whose resting places they watch…

Wow, apparently the holidays made me sentimental… in short, to those T-Nationers in uniform: thanks.

"Is it true they must commit 2 years of life to guard the Tomb, live in a barracks under the tomb, and cannot drink any alcohol on or off duty for the rest of their lives.

No, this is a false rumor. The average tour at the Tomb is about a year. There is NO set time for service there. The Sentinels live either in a barracks on Ft. Myer (the Army post located adjacent to the cemetery) or off base if they like. They do have living quarters under the steps of the amphitheater where they stay during their 24 hour shifts, but when they are off, they are off. And if they are of legal age, they may drink anything they like, except while on duty.

Is it true they cannot swear in public for the rest of their lives?

Again, another false rumor.

Is it true after two years, the guard is given a wreath pin that is worn on their lapel signifying they served as Guard of the Tomb, that there are only 400 presently worn, and that the Guard must obey these rules for the rest of their lives or give up the wreath pin?

The Tomb Guard Identification Badge is awarded after the Sentinel passes a series of tests. The Badge is permanently awarded after a Sentinel has served 9 months as a Sentinel at the Tomb. Over 500 have been awarded since its creation in the late 1950’s. And while the Badge can be revoked, the offense must be such that it discredits the Tomb. Revocation is at the Regimental Commander?s discretion. But you can drink a beer and even swear and still keep the Badge. The Badge is a full size award, worn on the right pocket of the uniform jacket, not a lapel pin."

“It was erroneously reported that during Hurricane Isabel, the Sentinels were ordered to abandon their posts for shelter and that they refused. No such order was ever given. All proper precautions were taken to ensure the safety of the Sentinels while accomplishing their mission. Risk assessments are constantly conducted by the Chain of Command during changing conditions to ensure that soldier welfare is maintained during mission accomplishment.”

From Society of the Honor Guard | Page Not Found: 404

Don’t believe everything you read.

I was privileged to witness the Changing of the Guard this fall. It was an amazing ceremony.

During the winter, the guard is changed hourly. That is still an amazing amount of ceremonies, however.

From Arlington’s website: [quote] Each soldier must be in superb physical condition, possess an unblemished military record and be between 5 feet, 10 inches and 6 feet, 4 inches tall, with a proportionate weight and build. [/quote]

I do not see anything about a 30 inch waist.

Here is the link:

Witnessing this ceremony is incredible. I encourage everyone to see it sometime.


Apparently I fell victim to another ficticious email forward. Oh well, the sentiment remains the same…

I knew some of that had to be BS. No pin in the world is worth giving up beer and profanity. Besides, who would know and rat you out for doing either??

Still the facts were interesting…

I’ve actually heard that there’s a similar, elite group of guards that patrol outside Biotest corporate headquarters… the training is just as rigorous, but all of the things that the guards above discourage (drinking, fighting, swearing) are actually encouraged and expected from the T-Nation troopers… just a rumor, never confirmed.