The Tomb of the Unknowns at the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, U.S.A. was first built in 1921. Its purpose was and still is to remember and honor those soldiers who have died in service but could not be identified.
The monument, which was originally meant to represent those who fell in the First World War, but it was expanded in 1931 and now commemorates all unknown soldiers. It lies on the top of a hill looking over Washington D.C. It is an important place for many Americans, particularly the military.
Three years after the end of the First World War, the United States Congress agreed to have an unidentified American soldier buried in the Memorial Amphitheater. The nameless serviceman was transported over the Atlantic Ocean from France. After bringing them home, they buried the body beneath a three-level marble tomb.
Over the years the structure has been developed and improved. The east panel faces towards Washington D.C., the capital city of the United States. It is inscribed with Greek figures that stand for Peace, Victory and Valor. The latter was originally meant to represent the concept of “American Manhood”, but the meaning was changed as the years went on.
Although the tomb is commonly referred to as the Tomb of the Unknowns, it was never officially given a name. Despite this, the meaning behind the monument is widely known. Only a few individuals have been laid to rest here over the years, but the Tomb still represents all of the American heroes who fell in the service of their country, despite their names being unknown or unrecorded.
The tomb is guarded by soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Regiment, called ‘The Old Guard’, dressed in ceremonial uniform. One of the soldiers walks along the black mat in front of the tomb.
The Soldier on duty does not display any insignia to show rank. This is out of respect, so that they do not outrank the servicemen that the Tomb is meant to honor. The only exception to this rule are the Relief Commander and the Assistant Relief Commander, but although they do wear insignia, this is only when the guard is actually changed.
The walk down the mat must take exactly 21 steps. Again, this is out of respect, for the 21 gun salute is the highest honor any person can receive. When they reach the end of the mat, they never about-face, so as not to turn their backs on the tomb. Instead, they face the tomb for 21 seconds, and then start walking again.
The guard keeps the rifle on the outside arm. This is to show that they are standing between visitors and the tomb, so as to protect it. The guard does this all over and over again, until the Changing of the Guard. Because they carry the rifle for so long, they wear gloves for a better grip.
In summer, from April 1 to September 30, the Guard is changed every 30 minutes. In winter, from Oct 1 to Mar 31, it is changed every hour. When the Tomb is closed to the public, it is still guarded. At these times the Changing of the Guard is every two hours.
The ceremony is an impressive and solemn event. As this video clearly shows, the soldiers on duty here are very serious about what they do. Bearing in mind the significance of the tomb and their role as its guard, these individuals are extremely respectful and highly disciplined in their duties.
Understandably, of course, they also expect the same level of respect and maturity from members of the public who come to visit the Tomb. If people try to cross the barriers, are too disruptive and noisy, or are otherwise disrespectful, the guard on patrol will do something about it! He puts people in their place around 4:40 into the video but please do watch the whole video – the slow marching is a skill, amazingly so.
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