Fact Check: Post Is NOT Completely Correct In Its Listing Of Duties, Requirements For Honor Guards At Tomb Of The Unknown Soldier

Fact Check

  • by: Kaiyah Clarke
Fact Check: Post Is NOT Completely Correct In Its Listing Of  Duties, Requirements For Honor Guards At Tomb Of The Unknown Soldier Overstated

Is a post listing more than a dozen duties, selection requirements and obligations for honor guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery entirely accurate? No, that's not true: While some of the claims in this post, which has circulated online since at least 2004, describe authentic practices of the honor guard, others are either false, incomplete or overstated.

The claim appeared as a Facebook post (archived here) on January 6, 2022. Above the image of a soldier standing guard, in snow, it opened:

On Jeopardy the other night, the final question was: 'How many steps does the guard take during his walk across the Tomb of the Unknown?'
All three missed it.
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The lengthy text lists questions-and-answers about the guards of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Among them:

1. How many steps does the guard take during his walk across the Tomb of the Unknown and why?
21 steps. It alludes to the twenty-one gun salute, which is the highest honor given any military or foreign dignitary.
2. How long does he wait after his about face to begin his return walk and why?
21 seconds for the same reason as above.
3. Why are his gloves wet?
His gloves are moistened to prevent his losing his grip on the rifle.

This is what the image in the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:

Lead Stories reached out to The Society of the Honor Guard, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (SHGTUS), an association of 695 current and former tomb guards, concerning the lengthy list of details in the post. Herb Smith, who served as a tomb guard from 1968 to 1969, responded by email on January 18, 2022, on behalf of the organization and went through the details and claims point-by-point.

He noted at least nine inaccuracies or statements needing clarification:

  • From the post: Guards are changed every thirty minutes, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year. From Smith: "In the Winter, the guard is changed it is every hour. In the Summer, it is every half hour. After the cemetery closes (at the end of the day), it is every two hours."
  • From the post: For a person to apply for guard duty at the tomb, he must be between 5'10 and 6'2' tall and his waist size cannot exceed 30.' From Smith: "5' 10" to 6' 4" for men, 5' 8" for women; of which there have been four. Must be height to weight proportionate with a slender build."
  • From the post: They must commit 2 years of life to guard the tomb, live in a barracks under the tomb, and cannot drink any alcohol on or off duty for the rest of their lives. From Smith: "The average time served at the Tomb is 13-14 months. They are only in the Tomb Quarters in the catacombs of the Memorial Amphitheater when on duty at the Tomb. The remainder of the time they are at their barracks or live off post. You can drink alcohol when off duty and for the remainder of your life. We have a Tomb Guard reunion every two years. The first night there is an open bar. Other nights there is a cash bar.. However, I have never seen anyone over imbibe."
  • From the post: They cannot swear in public for the rest of their lives and cannot disgrace the uniform {fighting} 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 guard of the tomb. There are only 400 presently worn. The guard must obey these rules for the rest of their lives or give up the wreath pin. From Smith: "There are now 795 Tomb Guard Identification badges. (I am badge 70.) It is the second rarest military medal. The Astronauts Badge is the first. It is the only military medal that can be revoked even in civilian life if we bring dishonor and disrespect to the Tomb. There have been 20 revocations. It is awarded after about 9 months and the sentinel has passed all of the three exams with a 98% score on each. Only about 5% who begin training at the Tomb become badge holders. While we strive not to swear, but there are no such rules and it would be impossible to regulate."
  • From the post: The shoes are specially made with very thick soles to keep the heat and cold from their feet. There are 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 are no wrinkles, folds or lint on the uniform. Guards dress for duty in front of a full-length mirror. From Smith: "The uniforms are 100% wool. While hot in the Summer, this material holds a crease much better than other fabrics. The shoes are triple soled to prevent heat and cold from the feet. There is a horse shoe shaped steel plate on the bottom of the heel and a steel toe tap. There steel plates on the inside of the heels that makes the click that you hear when a guard stops and turns. This is an homage to the cavalry soldiers who first guarded the Tomb in 1926, mimicking the sounds of their spurs."
  • From the post: The first six months of duty a guard cannot talk to anyone, nor watch TV. From Smith: "While a candidate can talk during training, they do not watch TV until they have earned their badge."
  • From the post: All off duty time is spent studying the 175 notable people laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. A guard must memorize who they are and where they are interred. From Smith: "There are 17 pages of 'The Knowledge' which the trainee must learn verbatim. They are given three written exams. All i's must be dotted and t's crossed. They must score 98% or they must take it over. Cemetery knowledge is part of these pages."
  • From the post: Every guard spends five hours a day getting his uniforms ready for guard duty. From Smith: "The guards probably spend more than 5 hours a day with their uniform preparation."
  • From the post: The tomb has been patrolled continuously, 24/7, since 1930. From Smith: "The Tomb has been guarded 24/7/365 since July 2, 1937. Currently 30,880 days of continuous vigil recently."

This post has been circulated online since at least 2004, when Snopes addressed the claims in a fact check that can be read here.

Smith cites the FAQ page on the SHGTUS website. The Arlington National Cemetery website provides additional information on the changing of the guard at Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Lead Stories reached out to the Arlington National Cemetery for a statement concerning the validity of the claims made in this post and will update this story if a response is received.

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  Kaiyah Clarke

Kaiyah Clarke is a fact-checker at Lead Stories. She is a graduate of Florida A&M University with a B.S. in Broadcast Journalism and is currently pursuing an M.S. in Journalism. When she is not fact-checking or researching counter-narratives in society, she is often found reading a book on the New York Times Bestseller List.

Read more about or contact Kaiyah Clarke

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