Overlooking Washington, DC, a lone guard treks back and forth, 24/7. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier located below the Memorial Amphitheater in Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) is guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If the government closes because of blizzard or Nor’easter, the guard remains at place of duty. In the blazing heat of Northern Virginia summers, the guard marches 21 steps back and forth.
Tomb Guards are part of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment: “The Old Guard”. Since 1784, The Old Guard has distinguished itself as the oldest active infantry unit in the military. After World War II, the Old Guard became the official “US Honor Guard” and “Escort to the President.” An intense 6-12 month selection experience prepares soldiers for Tomb responsibilities, focusing on ceremonial procedures, uniform standards, and cemetery knowledge. Because it is a combat arms unit, The Old Guard did not allow women until 1994. (The military combat exclusion policy was repealed in 2013 and Department of Defense removed gender restrictions from military specialties in January 2016). A Military Police woman first completed the rigorous Tomb Guard training and earned the tomb guard identification badge in 1996. Qualified women and men take their places walking the mat.
Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God
words inscribed on the white marble Tomb
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was authorized in 1921. Unknown Soldiers laid to rest at the Tomb represent all missing and unknown service members who made the ultimate sacrifice – giving their lives, but also their identities while protecting freedom. The Tomb is the final resting place for Unknowns from World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. The Vietnam Unknown was interred in 1984. In 1998, DNA testing identified the remains as Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie, who was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam in 1972. The crypt that contained the Vietnam Unknown remains is vacant and has been inscribed: “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen, 1958-1975.”
To feel the intimacy of brothers [and sisters] is a marvelous thing in life. To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life. To feel the affection that comes from those whom we do not know, from those unknown to us, who are watching over our sleep and our solitude, over our dangers and our weaknesses—that is something still greater and more beautiful because it widens out the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things. … All humanity is somehow together. Pablo Neruda
The Sentinel’s Creed
My dedication to this sacred duty
is total and whole-hearted.
In the responsibility bestowed on me
never will I falter.
And with dignity and perseverance
my standard will remain perfection.
Through the years of diligence and praise
and the discomfort of the elements,
I will walk my tour in humble reverence
to the best of my ability.
It is he who commands the respect I protect,
his bravery that made us so proud.
Surrounded by well meaning crowds by day,
alone in the thoughtful peace of night,
this soldier will in honored glory rest
under my eternal vigilance. (Simon, 1971)
It’s reassuring to think of American guardians at the Tomb in Arlington Cemetery. Like the Unknowns they watch, the soldiers are themselves relatively unknown, wearing a uniform with no name-tags and sometimes with eyes hidden behind dark glasses. But they represent steadfast presence, symbolizing selfless service as they overlook graves commemorating colleagues who served and sacrificed; marching counterpoint to the fray / buzz / chaos that is Washington, DC.
© Joan S Grey, 6 APR 2018
IndexCardCure™: US Guardian Angels