The Tomb of the Unknowns is guarded in many types of weather. Also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, this national monument is dedicated to unidentified service members who fought for our country. Since 1937, U.S. Army solders have guarded the tomb 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Those guarding the tomb, known as Sentinels, have a Creed that says: “My dedication to this sacred duty is total and whole-hearted, and in the responsibility bestowed on me never will I falter. And with dignity and perseverance my standard will remain perfection. Through the years of diligence and praise and the discomfort of the elements I will walk my tour in humble reverence to the best of my ability. It is he who commands the respect I protect, his bravery that made us so proud. Surrounded by well-meaning crowds by day, alone in the thoughtful peace of night, this soldier will in honored glory rest under my eternal vigilance.” And walk they do, in snow, rain and heat.
In late January this year, a blizzard was bearing down on the D.C. area. Businesses and the federal government closed early, roads became impassable, and Arlington National Cemetery closed to visitors. Snow and blizzards are not a reason for the Tomb Guards to take refuge. They simply put on winter coats, gloves and hats and continue doing their duty. In the winter, there is a change of guard done every hour. If the path needs to be shoveled, they take care of that too. Otherwise, it is business as usual. Focus is not on the frigid conditions, but instead on those soldiers who sacrificed their lives.
Summer in the nation’s capital can be quite warm. Temperatures regularly reach the mid 90’s and the heat index can be over 100F. There are no summer uniforms for the guard. Wool pants and jackets are still worn, as are black dress shoes that get so hot the polish melts off of them. Staying hydrated in the heat is their only relief. In the summer, the change of guard is completed every half an hour. To guard the tomb is an honor, those who have perished in war no longer have the chance to experience a summer day.
In 2012, Hurricane Sandy devastated the Northeastern U.S. coastline with heavy rain and strong winds. It did not, however, stop the Sentinel from standing duty. In conditions such as this, they are allowed to stand in a small enclosure, known as “the box”, for up to two hours before resuming their march.
However, the lives of the Tomb Guards are never put at risk. Contingency plans exist and are ready to be executed should there be any type of severe weather, like lightning, that would put them at risk. Above all, it is important that those soldiers guarding the tomb remain safe.
On this Veterans Day, we at WDT thank all who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces to protect our country.