A Salute to America's Heroes, Revisiting Arlington Cemetery






These are the words inscribed on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. The monument is dedicated to deceased U.S. service members whose remains have not been identified.

A Salute to America's Heroes, Revisiting Arlington Cemetery

Placing of the marble monument in 1931. It is the monument that exists today. (Photo: Harris & Ewing Photographs)


Since 1860, Arlington National Cemetery has served as a final resting place for Veterans from the U.S. and 11 other countries with over 420,000 buried within its confines. Nearly 5,000 unknown Soldiers are buried throughout the cemetery and approximately 29 funerals take place every week. More than 3 million people visit Arlington National Cemetery each year to pay their respects.

In 1921, an unidentified American serviceman from World War I was brought back from France and interred at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier; however, there was no monument at the time — it was just a stone that covered the opening of the tomb. In 1931, the marble monument that exists today was placed.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, or Tomb of the Unknowns, contains the remains of Soldiers from wars in which the U.S. has fought. More recent DNA testing has enabled the identification of remains and in some cases, these have been returned to families for burial in their plots.

A Salute to America's Heroes, Revisiting Arlington Cemetery

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as seen in 2014. (Photo: Ben Philippi / Guns.com)


The tomb has been guarded night and day since 1948 by Soldiers of the United States Army and is considered one of the highest honors to serve as a Sentinel at the tomb. Fewer than 20% of those who apply are accepted for training and only a fraction of those become Sentinels.

Sentinels do not wear rank insignia so as not to outrank the “Unknowns” and there is a meticulous drill that guards must follow. It consists of 21 steps and pauses of 21 seconds. This number was chosen because it symbolizes the highest military honor that can be bestowed – the 21-gun salute. Every hour, the guard changes with movements that are precise and exact.

The guard’s duty is not simply ceremonial. They often stop visitors from crossing the barriers of the tomb or reprimand those who are disrespectful or loud.


The weapons carried by the guards are cleaned daily and are fully functional — though they have changed over the years to reflect those used by the Army. Guards have used the M1903 Springfield and M1 Garand rifles as well as the M1911A1 and M9 pistols. Tomb guards currently carry M14 rifles with high-polished stocks and chromed bayonets while the detail commander carries a specially-made M17.

A Salute to America's Heroes, Revisiting Arlington Cemetery

A Sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier carrying a ceremonial, yet fully operational, M14 rifle. (Photo: Ben Philippi / Guns.com)

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