Sixty eight years ago, the first Old Guard paced twenty one steps in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, faced the tomb for twenty one seconds and paced another twenty one steps in the opposite direction of which he had just walked. The ground on which that first guard stood is now visibly worn by the footprints of every man and woman who has served to honor those killed and unidentified in battle. Every moment since that first stationing on April 6, 1948, a guard has stood watch over the tomb that sits in Arlington National Cemetery. Yes, even this weekend, when Mother Nature decided that nearly twenty inches of snow would cover the greater Washington, D.C. area.
Days before the blizzard, experts estimated that the area could receive the largest snowfall in its history. But even with knowledge about the scale and severity of the impending storm, the Old Guard stated that they would remain in rotation, changing the guards in front of the tomb hourly as done every winter.
As the snow began to fall Saturday morning, a guard was stationed, just as they had stated. Behind him, the tomb was quickly blanketed as the snow fell at a rate of one to two inches per hour. Also fading to a glistening white was the rubber walkway on which the guards walk. Rapidly accumulating, each footprint was slowly covered only to be freshly disturbed by their polished black boots stepping precisely into place — twenty one steps to the left, and twenty one steps to the right.
Under a state of emergency, not a car moved on the streets. At the tomb, shutter clicks from cameras that often capture the changing of the guard were nonexistent. The only sound which penetrated the air was the sharp clack of two boots striking one another as the on duty guard turned to face the tomb.
Even as everyone hunkered down in warmth, the Old Guards of The Tomb remained on duty. Servicemen and women who have been awarded with a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Identification Badge have endured rigorous physical and mental training and are some of the most dedicated individuals in the United States military. So the next time you’re inside, sheltered from a storm, remember that these men and women are still standing guard and proudly representing the United States military.