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Correcting Brett’s Post About The Tomb Of The Unknown Soldier

Soldiers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
(Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

In May of 2012, I had written a post here at WYRK.com about some interesting facts about the Tomb Of The Unknown Soldier. I had used a website called freerepublic.com for some of the facts.

However, yesterday I received an email from John Shields who actually served as a Sentinel at the Tomb Of The Unknown Soldier from ’00 to ’02. He explained that some of the statements made in the post were incorrect and asked if he could help me to clear some of them up. 

First of all, I want to apologize for adding to the millions of incorrect facts that exist on the internet. My intention was to honor our military and show people just how much our soldiers sacrifice for us and how much they sacrifice for each other. It certainly wasn’t my intention to pass along false facts. So I appreciate all of Mr. Shields’ help in clearing it up and the polite manner in which he brought them to my attention.

Click here to read the original post.

His email was very well written. Here are the facts that were incorrect, according to Mr. Shields:

1. Those who are chosen then commit to guard the tomb on a rotation that lasts for two years.
This is false. An average rotation at the tomb is generally from  a year to a year and a half. That being said, there is no set time limit for a tour at the tomb. I served with sentinels who had been there for up to 5 years.

2. The guard is changed every 30 minutes, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
This is partially correct. The guard is changed every 30 minutes during the summer hours of the cemetery. I believe this is from March till October. Then the guard rotation is changed every hour. Sentinels are there 24/7, 365 a year. Most don’t know that once the cemetery is closed, the sentinels no longer “walk” in dress uniform and change over to the BDU’s. This is training time for the relief after hours.

3. They offer to refrain from drinking alcohol (on and off duty) for the rest of their lives.
This is completely false. Sentinels are first and foremost American citizens. So with that comes the rights that all citizens have which includes drinking if you are of the legal drinking age. Alcohol is served at the sentinel’s annual Christmas dinner for those who are of age.

4. They cannot swear in public FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES and cannot do anything that would disgrace the uniform or the tomb in any way.
This is also completely false. Freedom of speech is a First Amendment right granted to all citizens which sentinels most assuredly are. Besides, when have you ever heard of any kind of Army posting or training not filled with all sorts of expletives. My trainers used some very colorful language to get the points home.

Again, thank you to John Shields for the insider information. He also passed along some extra stuff:

Every guard waits 21 seconds to make each pass. He stops on the 21st step, then turns and faces the Tomb for 21 seconds. Then he turns to face back down the mat, changes his weapon to the outside shoulder, counts 21 seconds, then steps off for another 21 step walk down the mat. The weapon is always between the crowd and the tomb as a symbol of his readiness to defend the tomb. He faces the Tomb at each end of the 21 step walk for 21 seconds. The Sentinel then repeats this over and over until he is relieved at the Guard Change. The 21 represents the 21 gun salute which is the highest honor that can be rendered.

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