Memorials And Cemeteries
The United States has many memorials to honor the brave men and women who have served our country. The American Battle Monuments Commission and the National Park Service are in charge of cemeteries and monuments. The Veterans Administration maintains more than 2.9 million gravesites at 128 national cemeteries in 39 states and Puerto Rico, as well as in 33 soldiers' lots and monument sites.
The Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery has the remains of Soldiers from World War I, World War II, and the Korean Conflict. It is guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year by the Old Guard. Each soldier who is buried here was given the Medal of Honor.
The Vermont Marble Company of Danby, Vermont furnished the marble for the Tomb of the Unknowns. It is made of seven pieces of marble that total 79 tons. The cost of the Tomb was $48,000. Thomas Hudson Jones was the sculptor and Lorimer Rich, the architect. The Tomb has the words “HERE RESTS IN HONORED GLORY AN AMERICAN SOLDIER KNOWN BUT TO GOD”.
The Tomb is guarded by the “Old Guard” and has been guarded continuously since 1937. The soldiers who are given this honor are dedicated and honorable men and women who take their position very seriously. About 80 % of the applicants for the “Old Guard” do not qualify. They must be between 5`10” and 6`2” and have a waist size no larger than 30”.
Ceremony is important and the Old Guard. Each guard takes 21 steps down a black mat, turns and faces the Tomb for 21 seconds, changes the position of his rifle to the side away from the Tomb, and walks back down the mat 21 steps. (The number 21 represents a 21 gun salute) This is repeated until the soldier is relieved of duty. Each Guard is on duty for 30 minutes during the summer (April 1-September 30) and one hour during the winter (October 1-March 31). When Arlington Cemetery is closed the guards change every two hours. Even when there is no one around, the same procedure is followed with perfect precision.
There are many rumors about the Old Guard. Here are some rumors and facts:
1. Guards must commit for a period of two years.
Fact: Most guards serve for about one year. There is no definite time required.
2. The guards live under the Tomb.
Fact: During the 24 hour period when they are on duty, the guards live under the steps of the amphitheater. When they are not on duty they can live at Fort Myer or off base.
3. The guards cannot swear or drink alcohol for the rest of their lives.
Fact: Guards cannot drink while on duty, but they can drink off duty if they are legal age.
4. Their shoes are especially made to keep their feet from being too hot or too cold.
Fact: Their shoes are standard military issue. The heel and sole are the same height so that they can move in a fluid motion while they are marching.
5. The Guard was asked to abandon their post during Hurricane Isabel and they refused.
Fact: They were never asked to abandon their posts. The safety of the Guard is very important and bad weather conditions, such as wind and hurricanes, are carefully monitored. There are contingency plans for such conditions that will still allow the Tomb of the Unknowns to be guarded while insuring the safety of the guards.
6. For the first six months the guards are not allowed to talk.
Fact: There is very little time to talk but talking is allowed. The guards spend hours each day preparing their uniforms, practicing rifle drills and marches, and studying about Arlington National Cemetery, the Tomb and those who are laid to rest there.
Tomb Of The Unknowns
A soldier escorted by the Old Guard to his resting place
World War I Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery
The residents of Washington, DC built a memorial to honor local heroes who served in World War I
Memorial to Korean War Veterans, Washington, DC
United States Marine Corps War Memorial
Vietnam War Memorial
NJ Vietnam Veterans' Memorial, Holmdel, New Jersey
National World War II Memorial, Washington, DC
During military funerals, memorials and wreath-laying ceremonies Taps is played. These 24 notes have become a solemn, reverent symbol of loss. There are several different versions that are sung as Taps is played but there are no official words. The most common wording is:
Day is done, gone the sun,
From the hills, from the lakes,
From the sky.
All is well, safely rest,
God is nigh.
An interesting website that gives you information on cemeteries is sponsored by the Department of Veteran Affairs and National Cemeteries.