To Battle We Go: The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Apr 26, 2023 | by Brad Rowland

To Battle We Go: The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

By: Dr. Steve Kellner

My favorite place to take visitors in my adopted hometown of Washington, D.C. is Arlington National Cemetery, just across the Potomac River in Virginia. Within Arlington my favorite event is the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which occurs every half an hour without fail. The Tomb contains the remains of selected unidentified service members killed in action from all of America's military conflicts dating back to the Civil War and is guarded twenty-four hours a day, year-round, in all weather conditions by a special U.S. Army unit called the Old Guard.

Tomb guards are carefully selected and take their duties very seriously. The list of requirements for guards is too lengthy to publish here, but it includes a two-year commitment, a prohibition on alcohol consumption and swearing on and off duty, and memorizing a seventeen-page document on the history of the cemetery, including the names and grave locations of 175 prominent Americans buried at Arlington. Guards are known to spend hours a day preparing their immaculate dress blue uniforms, highly shined shoes, and pristine rifles.

When on duty at the Tomb, the guard will take precisely 21 steps in each direction at a marching pace of 72 beats per minute, pausing for 21 seconds after facing about before beginning the return walk. The changing of the guard itself is a carefully choreographed ballet between the commander of the guard and the guards going on and off duty. Tourists may observe the ceremony but are directed by the commander of the guard to remain "standing and silent" while doing so.

The U.S. Army and the Tomb guards go to all this trouble to show honor, respect, and gratitude to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. The round the clock sentry and the exacting standards for guards are ways of showing this, and to encourage the spirit of sacrifice in all who visit the tomb.

Salvationists (and all believers) also venerate a tomb but, happily, ours is the Tomb of the Known Savior, Jesus Christ, who is no longer there! His sacrifice for us is something we all know and are thankful for, but often take for granted. If the Old Guard goes to such lengths for our honored military dead, how much more should we Salvationists show honor, respect, and gratitude to God for His unfathomable gift to us? And think of how doing so would encourage a spirit of sacrifice in all with whom we come in contact.

No, we don't need to spend hours ironing our uniforms and shining our shoes (although a little bit of that wouldn't hurt!), but the preparation, determination, and dedication to duty shown by the Old Guard is a good example to us. We should be on the march serving Jesus twenty-four hours a day, yearround, and in all weather conditions. But let's make the march tempo 120!

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