Thursday, October 9, 2008

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier or Tomb of the Unknowns

For our first anniversary, my husband and I visited Washington D.C. Of course, one of our stops was Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

I had always assumed that the three men laid to rest here were the only soldiers to have not been identified. It occurred to me on our visit in 2007 that the men are symbolic of all soldiers whose remains have never been identified. Men from World War I, World War II and the Korean War rest and are guarded here. Until 1998, a Vietnam War soldier was buried under one for the slabs; those remains were identified as First Lieutenant Michael Blassie and were removed and buried elsewhere.

If you've never been to this monument, I encourage you to visit. It is a solemn, beautiful, sad place. The Changing of the Guard is one of the most impressive and respectful ceremonies one can witness.

There are many interesting symbolic actions associated with being a guard here. While I found several seemingly false rumors (the guards cannot drink alcohol for the rest of their lives and they must live in a barracks under the tomb), I found the facts here. For the record, it appears that guards may drink if of legal age and are not on duty and only stay beneath the tomb while on 24-hour shifts.

Here are other facts:

  • Guard duties are not affected by inclement weather
  • The tomb has been guarded continuously, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, since July 2, 1937 (From Wikipedia)
  • Guards spend about six hours preparing their uniforms for their next shift
  • Guards take 21 steps on each pass of the tomb; this is symbolic of the traditional salute
  • All guards must study and memorize over 15 pages of information about the cemetery and memorize the locations of 300 notable graves.
There are, of course, many other rules, regulations and expectations placed on these prestigious guards. I found the above examples interesting as they symbolize respect, honor and reverence for the dead.

If you visit, please be sure to observe rules and remain quiet and respectful. This means turning off any electronics and generally conducting oneself in a way befitting of visiting hallowed ground. If you do not act in a respectful manner, there are other visitors who will keep you in line or ask you to leave (we witnessed this). Just keep in mind what this tomb means to our country and you should be just fine.