DC Trip - Tomb of the Unknowns

by Kevin November. 06, 2009 2932 views

The Tomb of the Unknowns (also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, although it has never been officially named) is a monument dedicated to American servicemen who have died without their remains being identified. It is located in Arlington National Cemetery.

The Tomb sarcophagus was placed above the grave of the Unknown Soldier of World War I. West of the World War I Unknown are the crypts of unknowns from World War II (south) and Korea (north). Between the two lies a crypt which once contained an unknown from Vietnam (middle). His remains were identified in 1998 as First Lieutenant Michael Blassie and removed. Those three graves are marked with white marble slabs flush with the plaza.

There is a meticulous ritual the guard follows when watching over the graves:

1. The soldier walks 21 steps across the Tomb. This alludes to the 21-gun salute, which is the highest honor given to any military or foreign dignitary in America. His weapon is always on the shoulder opposite the Tomb (i.e., on the side of the gallery watching the ritual).
2. On the 21st step, the soldier turns and faces the Tomb for 21 seconds.
3. The soldier then turns to face the other way across the Tomb and changes his weapon to the outside shoulder.
4. After 21 seconds, the first step is repeated.

The Tomb of the Unknowns has been guarded continuously, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, since July 2, 1937. Inclement weather does not cause the watch to cease.

Photos are from Day 4 [photoblog.com].

Photo taken 10/22/09.

It is considered one of the highest honors to serve as a ceremonial guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Less than 20% of all volunteers are accepted for training and of those only a fraction pass training to become full-fledged Tomb Guards.

Photo taken 10/22/09.

Over the years there have been several different types of weapons used by the Tomb Guards. The changes in weapons reflect the changes in the Army, including M1903 Springfield rifle, M1 Garand and M14 rifles , M1911 .45 ACP and M-9 9mm Beretta pistols. Tomb guards currently use the M14 rifle, and carry it without a magazine inserted.

Photo taken 10/22/09.

The guards have metal plates built into the soles and inner parts of their shoes to allow for a more rugged sole and to give the signature click of the heel during maneuvers.

Photo taken 10/22/09.

The mat is usually replaced twice per year: before Memorial Day and before Veterans Day.

Photo taken 10/22/09.

During the day in summer months (Apr-Sept), the guard is changed every half hour. During the winter months (Oct-Mar), the guard is changed every hour. After the cemetery closes to the public, the guard is changed every two hours until the cemetery reopens.

Photo taken 10/22/09.

The guard change is very symbolic, but also conducted in accordance with Army regulations. The relief commander or assistant relief commander, along with the oncoming guard, are both required for a guard change to take place.

Photo taken 10/22/09.

The guard being relieved will say to the oncoming guard, “Post and orders remain as directed.” The oncoming guard's response is always, “Orders Acknowledged.”

Photo taken 10/22/09.

The Tomb of the Unknowns is perpetually guarded by the U.S. Army. The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (“The Old Guard”) began guarding the Tomb April 6, 1948.

Photo taken 10/22/09.

Photo taken 10/22/09.

Photo taken 10/22/09.

Photo taken 10/22/09.

The white marble sarcophagus has a flat-faced form and is relieved at the corners and along the sides by neo-classical pilasters, or columns, set into the surface.

Photo taken 10/22/09.

Sculpted into the east panel which faces Washington, D.C., are three Greek figures representing Peace, Victory, and Valor.

Photo taken 10/22/09.

Inscribed on the western panel of the Tomb are the words:

“ HERE RESTS IN HONORED GLORY AN AMERICAN SOLDIER KNOWN BUT TO GOD ”

Photo taken 10/22/09.

The six wreaths carved into the north and south of the tomb represent six major battles of World War I: Ardenne, Belleau Wood, Chateau-Thierry, Meuse-Argonne, Oisiu-Eisue and Somme.

Photo taken 10/22/09.

The sentinels do not wear rank insignia on their uniforms so that they do not outrank the Unknowns, whatever their rank may have been.

Photo taken 10/22/09.

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