Home | Photography
Meghan Ernest

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The Unknown Soldier-a common soldier whose identity is never known, but his presence and voice is always there. Those three American soldiers buried in the Tomb are from World War I and World war II, the Korean Conflict, and until 1998, the Vietnam War. Each was presented with the Medal of Honor and their caskets were wrapped with the American Flag. Before I tell you why I am qualified to participate in this great honor and experience, I will give a little history and facts on the importance of the guards and the actual Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The tomb has been patrolled continuously, 24/7, since 1930. The guards change every thirty minutes, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year no matter what the weather. During the winter months, the guards are changed every hour. Here is some background on the guards of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The guard takes 21 steps during his walk across the tomb of the Unknowns because it alludes to the 21 gun salute, which is the highest honor given to any military notable. For the same reason, he hesitates facing the tomb for 21 seconds after his about face, or turnaround, to begin his return walk. He also does not always carry the rifle on the same shoulder; he always carries it on the shoulder away from the tomb. The gloves of the guard are moistened to prevent loosing his grip on the rifle. The first "unknown soldier" was one of four American dead taken from a battle field in WWI; he was honored at Arlington National Cemetery in 1921. During Hurricane Isabelle, the guards were given permission to suspend the assignment because of the dangerous they would be facing outside. 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 serviceperson.

There are many physical traits a guard is limited to. For example, he must be between 5'10" and 6'2" inches tall and his waist size cannot exceed 30". All guards must commit to 2 years of life to guard the tomb, live in barracks under the tomb, and cannot drink any alcohol on or off duty for the rest of their lives. They also can't swear in public and cannot disgrace the uniform or the tomb in any way. Any disregard to these rules will result in their giving up of the wreath pin that they are given after 2 years of duty. Their uniform can have absolutely no wrinkles, folds or lint. It takes approximately 5 hours each day preparing their uniform for duty. Some other restrictions for the guards are that they cannot talk to anybody or watch television for their first 6 months of duty. They spend their free time studying the 175 notables buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Participating in the Changing of the Guards would be a huge honor, to me and my family. I have many generations of family serving in the armed forces. Both of my grandfathers fought in WWII, one lost a brother. My mother's father served on the European front, and my father's father fought the Japanese in the Philippines. My father was a Marine who served in the Vietnam War, and currently, my cousin Jared is serving as a US Marine in Iraq. My father has recently been reunited with the men that he served with, and along with the good times of seeing everybody again, it brings back the memories of all the good friends that they lost in battle. My father's experience has helped me gain a perspective on the sacrifice the men, women, and their families serving in the armed forces must make to preserve our freedom. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier represents all of the sacrifices made for our freedom and reminds us that we shouldn't forget those who made the ultimate sacrifice. By participating in the Changing of the Guards I feel that I would gain an experience that I would remember the rest of my life. Personally, that opportunity is too great to pass up. I would do great at representing Whitnall Middle school. I have always earned good grades, and tried to set the best example for those younger than me. This would truly be an honor to participate, going to Washington DC is really awesome, but this would be an experience of a lifetime.