The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier: 12 Cool Facts

Today, I want to provide a few neat facts about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.  I was fortunate to spend about two and a half years in the Old Guard.  Although I never walked the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers, nor was I infantry, I have tremendous respect for the sentinels and the mission they represent.

If you ever plan on visiting Washington D.C. this is definitely a “must see” location.  The changing of the guard is inspiring, moving, and authentic.  Watching it gives me shivers every time and makes me proud to be a veteran and American.  I’m sure it will have the same impact on you.

What I want to do in the rest of this post is share a few neat facts and history about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers, just to give you a basic overview.  They are listed in no particular order.

# 1 The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was established in 1921.

# 2 It’s a monument to remember the unknown Soldier and celebrate the memories of Soldiers who died in combat.

# 3 From October 1st to March 31st each year, the changing of the guard happens once an hour, every hour. From April 1st to September 30th the changing of the guard ceremony takes place every half hour.

# 4 It’s guarded 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.

# 5 Only Soldiers in the Old Guard are eligible to apply for and try out for this position.  There are strict height requirements and the applicants also go through a thorough screening and vetting process. For example, Soldiers must memorize (verbatim) seven pages of unit history about Arlington National Cemetery and they must know the location of more than 300 different famous graves.  Most Soldiers do not make the cut.

# 6 Soldiers that qualify to walk the tomb receive a temporary “tomb badge” during their first nine months.  After nine months it becomes a permanent badge.  However, the badge can be revoked in the future at any time if the Soldier does something that disgraces themselves or brings dishonor to the Tomb.  It is the only badge in the Army that I know that can be revoked, even after someone leaves the military.

# 7 There are three reliefs.  Each relief has one commander (a Staff Sergeant) and approximately six sentinels.  The reliefs are organized by height.  Think of a “relief” as a shift of workers.

# 8 As of 2015, approximately 632 Soldiers have been awarded the Tomb badge.

# 9 The Tomb Badge is the least awarded badge in the Army, and the second least awarded badge in the military (other than the astronaut badge).

# 10 In 1993, SGT Heather Johnsen was the first female Soldier to receive the Tomb Badge.

# 12 There is a non-profit 501c organization called the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Society that protects and enhances the welfare and the image of the Tomb, and the sentinels.

Final Thoughts

The bottom line is that the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers is an incredibly important piece of American history.  Every American should take some time to visit the Tomb.  In addition, the Soldiers who walk the tomb are the best of the best.

What do you think?  If you’ve ever walked the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, or visited it, I would love to hear from you.  Just leave a comment to this post to share your thoughts.

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1 thought on “The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier: 12 Cool Facts”

  1. This is such an important unit for American service members, as well as members of the public who visit Arlington and witness the real sacrifices of our military. With advances in DNA, there are fewer and fewer unknown casualties. I recently read a news story that said the Pentagon was considering exhuming the remains of unknown sailors killed at Pearl Harbor so DNA identification could be made. Hundreds of these men were buried at Punchbowl National Cemetery in Honolulu, and although the Navy wants to preserve the sanctity of the graves, some family members want positive identification of their relatives.

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