OKEECHOBEE — Veteran James Dean, a city resident, reached out to share the following information with the Lake Okeechobee News.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is located at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. It is dedicated to deceased United States services members whose remains have not been identified. Funeral services for those it represents were presided over by several different presidents, and those who were interred were recipients of the Medal of Honor, the Victoria Cross and many other service awards.
• The guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier take 21 steps and then pause for 21 seconds before turning and taking 21 steps in the other direction. This is a reflection of the 21-gun salute, the highest honor given to any military or foreign dignitary.
• The guard’s gloves are moistened to help prevent him from losing his grip on his weapon.
• He carries his rifle on the shoulder facing away from the tomb and switches it to the other shoulder as he executes his about-face.
• Guards are changed every 30 minutes, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
• In order to apply for duty as a guard, he must be between 5-foot-10 and 6-foot-2 and his waist must not exceed 30 inches.
• They must commit two years of life to guard the tomb, live in a barracks under the tomb, and cannot drink any alcohol on or off duty for the rest of their lives. They cannot swear in public for the rest of their lives and cannot disgrace the uniform or the tomb in any way.
• After two years, the guard is given a wreath pin that is worn on their lapel, signifying they served as guard of the tomb. There are only 400 presently worn. The guard must obey these rules for the rest of their lives or give up the wreath pin.
• The shoes are specially made with very thick soles to keep the heat and cold from their feet. There are metal heel plates that extend to the top of the shoe in order to make the loud click as they come to a halt.
• There are no wrinkles, folds or lint on the uniform. Guards dress for duty in front of a full-length mirror.
• The first six months of duty, a guard cannot talk to anyone or watch TV.
• All off-duty time is spent studying the 175 notable people laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. A guard must memorize who they are and where they are interred. Among the notables are: President Taft, Joe Lewis (the boxer) and Medal of Honor winner Audie L. Murphy, the most decorated soldier of WWII and of Hollywood fame.
• Every guard spends five hours a day getting his uniforms ready for guard duty.
In 2003, as Hurricane Isabelle was approaching Washington, D.C., Congress took two days off with anticipation of the storm. On the ABC Evening News, it was reported that because of the dangers from the hurricane, the military members assigned the duty of guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier were given permission to suspend the assignment. They respectfully declined the offer, “No way, Sir!” Soaked to the skin, marching in the pelting rain of a tropical storm, they said that guarding the tomb was not just an assignment, it was the highest honor that can be afforded to a service person. The tomb has been patrolled continuously, 24/7/365, since 1930.