A lovely hillside overlooking the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., is the site of Arlington National Cemetery. This is the home of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Every year on November 11, Veterans Day, the unknown soldiers buried there are honored with an impressive ceremony. The president places a wreath at the site.
It was in 1921 that Congress approved the idea of burying an unknown soldier from World War I. This was a custom that other countries like Great Britain and France had already begun. As soon as the Tomb was completed, it became a popular spot because of the beautiful view it offered visitors. People actually used the Tomb as a picnic table! On March 25, 1926, the government decided to post an armed military guard there to uphold its solemn dignity by keeping picnickers and others away. In 1937, more guards were added, and the 24-hour watch was begun. Since then, three more unknown soldiers' bodies have been buried there: one from World War II, one from the Korean War, and one from the Vietnam War*. All were buried with highest honors.
You may wonder why the country pays such high respect to soldiers whom no one knows. These Americans who gave their lives and identities for peace and freedom represent all those killed, missing, or unknown in the service of their country. The tomb is a place where families can go to grieve for loved ones lost, known or unknown. Having a place for prayer and quiet can provide closure for them.
The Guard of Honor at the Tomb maintains the highest standards of the U.S. Army. These men and women are handpicked and trained strictly. Their mission is to protect the Tomb itself. They pledge to prevent any disrespect or desecration toward it.
A guard's job is difficult and demanding, so it isn't surprising that 80 percent of those who want the job fail to qualify. First of all, a person must be between 5 feet 10 inches and 6 feet 4 inches tall with a waist size not exceeding 30 inches. Soldiers must be disciplined, have a strong military manner, and possess an outstanding military appearance. Each individual must be able to perfectly perform seven different walks, honors, and ceremonies. He or she must learn and remember vast amounts of information about the Tomb, Arlington National Cemetery, the U.S. Army, and their unit.