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A tribute to guards of ‘The Tomb of the Unknowns’

November 7, 2009
By Wayne Sheets, Contributing Business Writer

On Wednesday, we will take time to pay respect to those who have and are serving in our armed forces, especially those who made the supreme sacrifice in order that we may continue to enjoy our liberties. There are many who died in combat who are "known only to God" as the inscription on the Tomb of the Unknowns says. I'd like to share with everyone some little known facts about those who guard and protect that most honored memorial in our nation's capital.

The guards take 21 steps during the walk across the Tomb of the Unknowns. That number alludes to the 21-gun salute, which is the highest honor given any military or foreign dignitary. At the end of those 21 steps, the guard hesitates 21 seconds for the same reason, then turns and retraces those same 21 steps.

The guards' gloves are moistened at all times to prevent them from losing their grip on the rifle. The rifle is carried on the shoulder away from the tomb. After his march across the path, he executes an about-face and moves the rifle to the outside shoulder. This is done as an act of protection to guard against any outside threat.

Guards change every 30 minutes, 24 hours a day, 365 days every year.

Those who apply for guard duty at the tomb must be between 5 foot, 10 inches and 6 foot, 4 inches tall and the waist size cannot exceed 30 inches. They must commit two years of their life to guard the tomb, live in a barracks under the tomb and cannot drink alcohol on or off duty for the rest of their lives. They cannot swear in public for the rest of their lives and cannot disgrace the uniform or the tomb in any way. After two years, the guard is given a wreath pin that is worn on their lapel signifying they served as a guard of the tomb. There are only 400 presently worn. The guard must obey these rules for the rest of their life or give up the wreath pin.

Their shoes are specially made with very thick soles to keep the heat and cold from their feet. They have metal heel plates that extend to the top of the shoe in order to make the loud "click" as they come to a halt.

There can be no wrinkles, folds or lint on their uniform. Guards dress for duty in front of a full-length mirror. Every guard spends five hours a day getting his uniform ready for duty. For the first six months of duty, a guard cannot talk to anyone nor watch TV. All off-duty time is spent studying the 175 notable people laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.

In 2003, as Hurricane Isabelle approached Washington, D.C., our U.S. Senate and House took two days off in anticipation of the storm. ABC evening news reported that because of the dangers from the hurricane, the military members assigned the duty of guarding the Tomb of the Unknowns was given permission to suspend the assignment. They respectfully declined the offer saying, "No way, sir!" Soaked to the skin, marching in the pelting rain of the tropical storm, they said, "Guarding the tomb is not just an assignment, it is the highest honor that can be afforded to a serviceperson."

The tomb has been patrolled continuously, 24 hours a day, seven days a week since 1930.

The inscription reads, "Here rests in Honored Glory an American Soldier Known but to God."

We can be very proud of our young men and women in the service no matter when, where or with which branch they have served or are serving. May God bless each of them.

McClain Printing in Parsons recently released several new books and I've been asked, and happily accepted the challenge, to write a review of them in an attempt to let our readers know that they are new in the marketplace and to give them an idea of what they are about. Books make timeless Christmas gifts, too. What better time than now to let you know of these new additions.

The first I'd like to mention is titled "Thresh Machine A Comin' - Memories of Jackson County" by Audrey Sayre Hartley. This little volume with less than 100 pages is a delight to read. Written in the vernacular of the time and the place, the book is full of delightful anecdotes of a young woman growing up in rural West Virginia. Those who might expect images of the author, the time and the place, will be disappointed because the only image she used is one of her home on the front cover. Her grassroots use of the English language, however, makes it easy and enjoyable to conjure up one's own mental images of her adventures and experiences.

Hartley's book is a welcome addition to many others that are being written by those who grew up during the Depression of the 20th century. Those who are still living today are octogenarians or beyond; many are passing away without leaving a record of what their life was like when they were young thus leaving a void in the history of the grassroots life of the era.

Fortunately, there still are many alive today who can and will identify with Hartley's experiences. Perhaps her book will inspire others to record their memories for posterity as she has done. One doesn't have to write a book; all that needs to be done is to put the memories in preservable form and give them to a relative for safekeeping or pass them on to the archives of a favorite library. They can be either written or verbalized in recordings. Libraries normally accept either media.

While the book is certainly not on the short list for literary acclaim, it is a heartwarming read. When I was growing up on the farm in Pocahontas County, I spent many a cold winter afternoon listening to my grandparents and parents talking about "how things were when they were young." Comparing what I remember hearing on those long winter evenings with what Hartley wrote, life in rural West Virginia was about the same everywhere when hard times were a companion to everyone.

The big discussion at Tuesday's Downtown Merchants' meeting centered on how to create a Christmas advertising campaign for local merchants that will effectively compete with the big box stores and other "well financed" merchandisers. Local merchants obviously do not have the advertising budgets for advertising with the elaborate flyers like those the BBSs flood the market with this time of year. Yet, they still need to make themselves, their merchandise and products known to the buying public. Attendees discussed several ideas, but no solutions to the problem surfaced. They tabled the subject for more consideration and it will be discussed further at the next meeting on Nov. 17. This would be a good time to share your ideas with the group. The meeting is on Nov. 17 at Ceramics with Class. It starts at 8:30 a.m.

Country Creations will host its Christmas Open House on Nov. 14 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Nov. 15 from noon to 4 p.m. Prizes, snacks and discounts will be featured. For more information, call Tammy at 304-630-2202.

The American Mountain Theater has ended its regular season and is now in rehearsal for the Christmas show, which begins the Friday after Thanksgiving, Nov. 27. This year's show promises to be as exciting, if not more so, as those of years past. Be sure to plan to attend at least one of them. Reservations are being taken and are going fast. To make yours, call 304-630-3040, or toll free at 800-943-3670.

 
 

 

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