A Place of Quiet and Honor
Amid our busy lives, we sometimes yearn for a place of silence, solemnity and rest from the pressures of life.
There is such a place. It is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Its white marble vault stands atop a hill in Arlington National Cemetery overlooking Washington, D. C. It contains the remains of unidentified soldiers from three of America’s wars.
Since 1930, the tomb has been guarded by military servicemen 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They are very special men.
They commit two years of their lives to this duty. Off duty they live in a barracks below the tomb. For their first 6 months, they cannot speak to anyone or watch television. For the rest of their lives they cannot drink alcohol, they cannot swear, they cannot engage in any behavior that is disrespectful. They study the lives of the 175 heroes who are buried at Arlington. They spend 5 hours a day cleaning and taking care of their uniforms. They dress in front of a full length mirror. Before each shift they are inspected by a Commander who makes sure their appearance is perfect. It must be this way as they honor the dead.
They march in silence behind the tomb. They march 21 steps, a reference to the 21 gun salute which is the highest honor granted a fallen warrior. At the end of the 21 steps, they make a smart about face, pause 21 seconds before they march back 21 steps. They carry a rifle. They have moistened gloves to make certain of their grip on their rifles. They patrol in this manner for 30 minutes. At that time there is a changing of the guard and another soldier assumes this sacred duty. This goes on 24 hours, 365 days a year.
In 2003, Hurricane Isabelle’s ferocious winds bore down on Washington. Because of the danger, Congress said the guards could stand down and take cover. Every one of them refused. They continued the march in pelting rain and buffeting winds. They said there could be no higher honor than their duty of remembering and respecting what those who lie in Arlington did for our country.
If you ever wonder if there are still heroes in America look to Arlington and those who serve at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.