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Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery, on November 11, 1922.

8 Facts about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

This article is in conjunction with last week's article Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. If you haven't read that article be sure to check it out as it will give context to the facts presented in this article.

8 Facts about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Fact 1: The Vietnam War's unknown soldier was selected on May 17, 1984

By May 1984, only one set of recovered American remains from Vietnam had not been fully identified. In a ceremony held at Pearl Harbor, Medal of Honor recipient Marine Corps Sergeant Major Allan Jay Kellogg, Jr. designated the remains as the Vietnam War Unknown.

On Memorial Day 1984, President Ronald Regan presided over the interment ceremony at Arlington. In his eulogy, Reagan assured the audience that the government would continue looking for the Vietnam War's missing in action (MIA) personnel. Meanwhile, the Vietnam War Unknown would lay at rest at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider for almost 14 years.

Fact 2: The Vietnam veteran wasn't an unknown soldier for long

Because of the advances in DNA testing, scientists were able to identify the remains of the Vietnam War soldier. On May 14, 1998, the remains were exhumed and tested, revealing the "unknown" soldier to be Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie. He had been shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. After his identification, his family had him moved to a cemetery in St. Louis. Instead of adding another unknown soldier to the Vietnam War crypt, the crypt cover was replaced with one inscribed, "Honor and Keeping Faith with America's Missing Servicemen, 1958-1975."

Fact 3: The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier has been guarded 24/7 since 1937

Tomb Guards come from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, "The Old Guard." Serving America since 1784, the Old Guard is the oldest active infantry unit in the military. They watch over the memorial every second of every day regardless if the cemetery is closed or if the weather is bad.

Fact 4: Becoming a tomb guard is tough.

Potential guards must apply and if picked, their application goes through an intense training process that includes tests on weapons, cadence, uniform preparation, ceremonial steps, and orders.

Everyone knows the military is known for neat uniforms, but it is said that the Tomb Guards have the neatest of them all.

Fact 5: The honor of guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Solider is rare.

In third place behind the Military Horseman Identification Badge and the Astronaut Badge, receiving the Tomb of the Unknown Solider Guard Identification Badge is both rare and difficult. Only 20% of applicants are accepted for training and those in training drop like flies.

Fact 6: The steps performed in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier have a specific meaning

According to the Society of the Honor Guard:

"The Sentinel does not execute an about face, rather they stop on the 21st step, then turn and face the Tomb for 21 seconds. They then turn to face back down the mat, change the weapon to the outside shoulder, mentally count off 21 seconds, then step off for another 21 step walk down the mat. They face the Tomb at each end of the 21 step walk for 21 seconds. The Sentinel then repeats this over and over until the Guard Change ceremony begins"

21 signifies the highest military honor, the 21-gun salute.

Fact 7: The guards do not wear their rank while on duty at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Members of the military often wear an insignia on their uniform that shows their rank however, the Tomb Guards do not do it. Since the identities and ranks of the soldiers within the tomb are unknown, the guards don't wear their insignia to avoid potentially outranking the soldiers they're watching over.

Fact 8: The guards are not there to show off

The Army originally put the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to deter the general public from having lunch on top of the hallowed gravesite. Over time, threats to the tomb became greater as defacing and touching monuments were happening more and more.

Furthermore, the Guards are monitoring people to ensure they show the utmost respect for the Tomb as it represents people who made the ultimate sacrifice for America.


Written By: Nathan Payonk

Author of Newsletter: Nathan Payonk

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