Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

October 6, 2017 at 4:52 am (Photography) (, , , )

Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

One of the most reverent and ritualistic ceremonies performed by the U.S. Army is the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The tomb is guarded every minute of every day. The guard is changed every hour (every half hour April to September) for the public to witness. This is the soldier who is coming on guard.

This is the soldier being relieved. From the Arlington website:

Sentinels, all volunteers, are considered to be the best of the elite 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), headquartered at Fort Myer, Va.

The way these Soldiers walk is a uniquely silent and controlled stride, which is all in the legs and feet, leaving the torso and head to glide with very little bounce of normal walking. They click their feet together at numerous points, with a loud metallic click. This is amazing to watch:

From the Arlington National Cemetery website:

An impeccably uniformed relief commander appears on the plaza to announce the Changing of the Guard. Soon the new sentinel leaves the Quarters and unlocks the bolt of his or her M-14 rifle to signal to the relief commander to start the ceremony. The relief commander walks out to the Tomb and salutes, then faces the spectators and asks them to stand and stay silent during the ceremony.

The relief commander conducts a detailed white-glove inspection of the weapon, checking each part of the rifle once. Then, the relief commander and the relieving sentinel meet the retiring sentinel at the center of the matted path in front of the Tomb. All three salute the Unknown who have been symbolically given the Medal of Honor. Then the relief commander orders the relieved sentinel, “Pass on your orders.” The current sentinel commands, “Post and orders, remain as directed.” The newly posted sentinel replies, “Orders acknowledged,” and steps into position on the black mat. When the relief commander passes by, the new sentinel begins walking at a cadence of 90 steps per minute.

The Tomb Guard marches 21 steps down the black mat behind the Tomb, turns, faces east for 21 seconds, turns and faces north for 21 seconds, then takes 21 steps down the mat and repeats the process. After the turn, the sentinel executes a sharp “shoulder-arms” movement to place the weapon on the shoulder closest to the visitors to signify that the sentinel stands between the Tomb and any possible threat. Twenty-one was chosen because it symbolizes the highest military honor that can be bestowed — the 21-gun salute.

Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place of many distinguished military men and women, including John F. Kennedy.

We made it just in time to see the Changing of the Guard. It was the end of the day, so we did not have time to view the gravesite of one of America’s most beloved presidents.

The rows of simple tombstones are similar to those found in veteran cemeteries all across the country.

The patterns are evocative. I understand that a service member’s wife can be buried with him, in the same footprint, one on top of the other.

Rest in peace, all you brave men and women who served our country.

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

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Website:  CindyMcIntyre.com

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Contact:  cindy at cindymcintyre.com

6 Comments

  1. Jet Eliot said,

    I visited here years ago but never got to see the Changing of the Guard. I really appreciated the video, Cindy, demonstrating the precision of the rifle inspection and the measured march of the guards. Also liked seeing the juxtaposition of the somberness of this important gravesite, mixed with activities of life like the aircraft sounds, the active squirrel, and the baby. A lovely post and tribute, thank you.

  2. Cindy McIntyre said,

    Thank you Jet Eliot – I’m glad you noticed those little ironies in the background. Next time I’ll bring a tripod for a more stable image. I would have stayed longer but my friends needed to get back.

  3. Patti said,

    Thanks Cindy, very nice photos. I saw the
    Changing of the Guard a long time ago. I forgot or didn’t know that they were volunteers. Amazing and touching…

    • Cindy McIntyre said,

      Patti- I think it would be a very tough assignment, but the sacrifice is commensurate with the honor.

  4. Robert said,

    Cindy:

    Thank you from all the veterans. We needed some One to show what respect, dignity and honor is.

    – Rob Olson

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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