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Army Sentinels Stand Watch At Tomb Of Unknown Soldiers During Pandemic

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, much in our lives has changed. Nearly everything we know has been touched by the effects of lockdown, social distancing, and the virus, but there are some things that continue on regardless of the circumstances.

At Arlington National Cemetery, there is a longstanding ritual.

Flickr | Arlington National Cemetery

Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, army sentinels stand watch at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The tomb houses the unidentified remains of American soldiers and service members who lost their lives fighting in WWI, WWII, and the Korean War.

The changing of the guards was a popular ceremony for tourists to watch while visiting the cemetery.

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But due to the closure of many public attractions and various stay-at-home measures, there isn't a visitor to be found. That isn't stopping the Army's 3rd Infantry Regiment from fulfilling their duties anyway.

Because it was never really about the people watching, it was about the people being watched over.

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Commander of the tomb guards, Captain Harold Earls IV, reminds us of the Army's values, "It doesn’t matter if it’s a hurricane or in this case a pandemic. We’re always here. We’re always guarding. The unknowns deserve that. Our country deserves this."

The ceremony has a long history, which would explain why they don't want to stop now.


This vigil has been going for over 30,000 days consecutive days, that's 83 years straight! It's a show of determination and gratitude for those that fought before them.

But while it isn't stopping at all, they have made a few small changes.

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The soldiers are wearing masks in their quarters for the first time, and uniform inspection is now done at a distance. The same is done for rifle examination. This is all to keep the Tomb Guards safe.

The rest remains the same, and the level of care and detail has not been lost at all.

Unsplash | Doug Keeling

During the changing of the guard ceremony, the Tomb Guard takes 21 steps down the mat, face east for 21 seconds, then north for the same, and take 21 more steps back down the mat. The number 21 represents the 21-gun salute, which is the highest military honor that can be granted.

These are far from the worst conditions these soldiers have stood watch through.

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The tomb has been guarded through heat waves, ice storms, torrential downpours, and other dangers.

And though this is all done to protect and honor some true American heroes, those involved are recognizing front line workers as well.

Flickr | Arlington National Cemetery

"I can look out and we see row upon row of headstones of white headstone markers. Each one of those are heroes," Capt. Earls said. "I think equally during this time, there are also heroes there on the front lines (at hospitals) and the first responders."

There's a comfort in knowing that while life has halted for many of us, for others it's going on as usual.

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Earls speaks to America during this time, and how hopeful he is, "I think the beautiful thing with this country -- in this moment -- is that during great times of struggling in this country, we’ve always come together. We’ve always come out stronger."