LIFE LESSON: Show the proper respect at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, or you just might receive an instant attitude adjustment.
Because that is what happened when an insolent group in attendance did not properly appreciate the solemnity of the occasion. When they burst out in laughter, the guard on duty immediately reprimanded them for their behavior.
It was an awesome sight to behold.
His movements were razor-precise as he paced back and forth in front of the Tomb, in a meticulous routine known as “walking the mat”. But beyond protecting the Tomb, part of his duty is to command silence, out of respect for the honored dead.
So when the vocal disturbance broke out, the guard instantly halted, pivoted, and confronted the crowd.
“It is requested that everyone maintains a level of silence and respect,” he demanded.
His weapon, a loaded M14 rifle, was in front of his body in a drill movement known as “port arms”. This signified his role as the sentinel standing between the Tomb and any potential threat. He held this guarded position until the crowd quieted.
Dignity restored, he turned and continued walking the mat.
Serving at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
The guard’s performance of his duty is a testament to his training and dedication. Being selected to serve at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is one of the highest honors possible. Just 20% of volunteers are accepted into the training program, and only a fraction become Tomb Guards.
Tomb Guards, who are all members of the U.S. Army, do not wear rank insignia. This way, they never outrank the Unknowns interred there. They are part of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, also known as the “Old Guard”.
The Old Guard has served America since 1784, making it the oldest Army infantry unit to still serve on active duty.
Each movement of walking the mat consists of exactly 21 steps, with a 21-second pause between changes of direction. This is because the highest honor of a military funeral is the “21-gun Salute”.
On the Tomb’s West Panel are inscribed these words:
HERE RESTS IN
KNOWN BUT TO GOD