For members of the military and their families, there may be no more hallowed ground within the United States as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. The men who are selected to guard these tombs are a rare breed, even among soldiers. Recently a small group of visitors to the site failed to grasp the full solemnity of the surroundings and began to laugh at something. The soldier guarding the tomb quickly put an end to their chuckling, and you are going to be amazed to see him in action when you watch this video.
The guards selected for the Tomb of the Unknown soldiers are selected only from volunteers serving in the 3rd infantry regiment based at nearby Ft. Myer, Virginia. Known as “The Old Guard,” less than twenty percent of applicants are accepted to serve as a sentinel at the tomb. In fact, it is the second least awarded badge in the US Army, behind the astronaut badge.
Sentinels at the tomb do not wear rank insignia so that they do not outrank the soldiers buried inside, no matter what their rank was.
While much of their duties are ceremonial, tomb sentinels are prepared at any moment to defend and secure the monument. While their rifles are unloaded, they are functional, and they do carry ammunition.
Thankfully, most of the time, all they need to do is issue a verbal reminder of the solemnity of the place to bring the public back in line.
Since midnight, July 2, 1937, the monument has been under 24 hour, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty five days a year constant guard. Weather, war, and even the September 11, 2001 terror attack on the Pentagon have not caused the watch to be interrupted. Ever.
The first tomb was established in 1921 after World War I. The bodies of four unidentified American soldiers were exhumed from graves in France and placed in identical caskets. Decorated vet Sergeant Edward F Younger selected one of the caskets by tossing white rose petals over it.
Today, there are four tombs, One each for an unidentified soldier from World War I, World War II, and Korea. The fourth tomb contained the remains of a Vietnam War soldier, however, in the late 1990’s, DNA testing allowed his remains to be identified as Air Force lieutenant Michael J. Blassie who was shot down and killed in 1972. His body was returned to his family in St. Louis, Missouri and he is now buried at the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery there.
The Vietnam tomb remains empty today and was redesignated to represent all missing and unidentified servicemen from that war. It’s new inscription reads “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen.”
All of the unknown soldiers have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously.
England and France established the first two Tombs of the Unknown Soldiers at the end of World War I. Today at least forty nine nations have tombs commemorating unidentified service members.
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