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Honoring those who quietly honor our country

Honoring those who quietly honor our country
By Dick Yarbrough
Honoring those who quietly honor our country
By Dick Yarbrough

Warning: This a No Trump Zone. If you want to revere the man or revile him this week, you are going to have to go somewhere else. Not here. Instead, I am going to talk about unsung heroes who have been serving their country quietly and with dignity for the past 97 years — those who guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

People ask me where I get my ideas for this space. I am blessed with readers who regularly suggest topics to me (not including those whose topic is to suggest I seek another line of work.)

One such reader is Carol Muldawer. An early supporter of the effort to bring the Olympic Games to Atlanta and a longtime aide and confidante of former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young and the late Congressman John Lewis, Carol shared with me information on the story of those who serve the hallowed grounds as Sentinels of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. And a fascinating story it is.

The Tomb holds the remains of an unknown soldier from World Wars I and II as well as Korea. The remains of the Vietnam War soldier interred there was later identified through DNA as Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie, who was shot down in Vietnam in 1972. He was reburied in his home state of Missouri, and the crypt that once held his remains now reads “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen.” That includes my fraternity brother, Lt. Pat Boggs, USAF.

As with many of you, I have visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on several occasions and have always been inspired with what I witnessed. It is a pageant of solemn dignity. After learning what goes into guarding the site, it becomes even more special.

The soldiers who guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier — men and women from every state in the union — are hand-picked and rigorously trained. Less than 20 percent of those who apply are accepted.

The Tomb has been guarded every minute of every day since March 25, 1937. The Guard is changed every 30 minutes during the summer and every hour during the winter. During the time the cemetery is closed, the guard is changed every two hours.

Twenty-one is a critical number at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It refers to the 21-gun salute, the highest honor given to any military or foreign dignitary. The Sentinels walk 21 steps, stop on the 21st step, turn and face the Tomb for 21 seconds. They then change their weapon to the outside shoulder, count off 21 seconds and step off for another 21 steps and face the Tomb. The Sentinel repeats this over and over until the Guard Change ceremony. Incidentally, the guards do not wear insignia, so as not to outrank the Unknowns, whatever their ranks may have been.

The weather does not bother the Sentinels at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They march through rain, sleet, snow or blistering heat. But the welfare of the soldier is paramount. The Tomb Guards have contingency plans in case weather conditions put them at risk. There is a rumor that during Hurricane Isabel, the Sentinels were ordered to abandon their posts for shelter and that they refused. No such order was ever given.

The Society of the Honor Guard which provides information on both the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and those that guard it also debunks several other rumors about those who serve as Sentinels, such as they cannot drink alcohol for the rest of their lives and cannot swear in public for the rest of their lives. Not true. I mean, these are outstanding human beings we are talking about here, but they are human.

I thank Carol Muldawer for sending me the information on those who perform this sacred duty, and I wanted to share it with you. Why? Because we need to be reminded that we live in a great country where there are special people quietly doing selfless things, like the men and women of our military who guard and protect the memory and the resting place of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for us and whose names we do not know.

This is the real America. Not a bunch of loudmouth know-it-all wingnuts on both ends of the political spectrum blathering their incessant and divisive drivel. Oops! I think I just reentered the No-Trump Zone!

You can reach Dick Yarbrough at or at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139.

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