Veterans Day is a holiday observed in the United States on November 11 each year to honor all those who have served in the military. On this day, we take time to honor all people who have served honorably in the military, both living and deceased veterans, in wartime and peacetime.

All throughout history, millions of soldiers have died in battle in countless wars. Whenever possible, their remains are identified and sent home, so that their families can give them a proper burial.

Sometimes, though, fallen soldiers remain unidentified. After World War I, a movement began to honor unidentified soldiers with a single tomb that would contain the body of a single unknown soldier.

That one soldier would then serve as a symbol of the sacrifice of all the unknown soldiers who died in battle. Today, there are many such memorials around the world.

Many of them have become frequently visited national monuments. In the United States, the Tomb of the Unknowns (often called the “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier”) is located in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

The Tomb of the Unknowns has become a popular monument dedicated to American service members who have died unidentified. The Tomb of the Unknowns contains the remains of unidentified soldiers from several wars.

The Tomb of the Unknowns is made of white marble. On its eastern side are three Greek figures that represent Peace, Victory and Valor. On its western side are the following words:

HERE RESTS IN HONORED GLORY
AN AMERICAN
SOLDIER
KNOWN BUT TO GOD

On its northern and southern sides are six wreaths that represent the six major battles of World War I.

The Tomb of the Unknowns has been guarded continuously — 24 hours per day, 7 days per week — since July 2, 1937. Even bad weather doesn’t interrupt the watch.

The Tomb of the Unknowns is guarded by the Tomb Guards, a special platoon within the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (also called “The Old Guard”). It is an extremely high honor to serve as a Tomb Guard.

Fewer than 20 percent of volunteers are accepted for training, and of those only a few pass the training to become a Tomb Guard.

When watching over the Tomb of the Unknowns, the Tomb Guards follow a detailed ritual:

  • A soldier walks 21 steps across in front of the Tomb of the Unknowns. The soldier holds his weapon on the shoulder opposite the Tomb.
  • On the 21st step, the soldier turns and faces the Tomb for 21 seconds.
  • The soldier turns in the opposite direction and changes his weapon to his outside shoulder.
  • After waiting another 21 seconds, the soldier walks another 21 steps back across in front of the Tomb, and the process repeats until the changing of the guard.

The number 21 is significant, because it represents the three volleys — the highest honor given to any military personnel in America — which consists of seven riflemen each firing three shots for a total of 21.

 

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    • That’s a very good observation, Natalia! The soldiers that guard the Tomb of the Unknowns are very quite and respectful, but they shout out what they’re going to do next as part of the ceremony. Thank you for visiting this Wonder of the Day® on Veterans Day and for letting us know your thoughts about it! :-)

    • We are exited to hear that you learned something new from exploring today’s Wonder, Kate! Thank you for leaving us another awesome comment! :-)

  1. Dear Wonderopolis,

    Hi Wonderopolis. We thought this wonder of the day was very appropriate for Veteran’s Day. A lot of us have veterans in our family or we have friends who have been in the military. We are worried about whether or not the guards guard the tomb when there is bad weather (like a tornado). Do you know what they do then? Do you know why Veteran’s Day is celebrated on 11/11? We also wonder how long it takes the soldiers to train to be a guard for the Tomb of the Unknowns.
    Thanks again for a great wonder! We loved your article.

    Mrs. Johnson’s third grade

    • We really liked getting your comment and hearing about all the extra WONDERing you did today on Veterans Day, Mrs. Johnson’s third grade!

      Here is a link that will help you learn a little more about what it takes to be a “sentinel,” or guard for the Tomb of the Unknowns: http://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/VisitorInformation/ChangingofTheGuard.aspx. It’s a special page on the website for Arlington National Cemetery (where the Tomb is located). If you click on the “Sentinels of the Tomb of the Unknowns” tab, you will learn that the sentinels stand guard no matter the weather! There is also information about training of the guards in the “3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment” section. :-)

  2. Dear Wonderopolis,

    What a great WONDER of the Day for Veteran’s Day! Some of our classmates did not know that there was a Tomb of the Unknowns. From this WONDER we learned that the guards guard the Tomb no matter what the weather. That is AWESOME! Our class finds it is sad that there are unknown soldiers and feel that this is a fascinating way to honor those fallen soldiers.

    TEAM CAISSE’S 5th grade Reading Class

    • Happy Veterans Day, TEAM CAISSE’S 5th grade Reading Class! We are so happy to receive a comment from you today! Thank you for letting us know that you learned something new about the Tomb of the Unknowns. We agree…it is an awesome way to honor those special heroes! :-)

    • Hi, Kadoodle! Thank you for sharing your comment with us and for letting us know you live in Canada! We think that is really cool! We have Wonder Friends in countries all over the world, so it’s awesome that we can all learn something new together from the Wonder of the Day®! :-)

  3. Awesome wonder, Wonderopolis! I have always been interested in learning about the wars and conflicts our soldiers have fought in. I found it very interesting how much work is involved in getting their uniforms ready to guard the Tomb of the Unknowns. These soldiers show so much pride in what they do. When we honor all of our veterans and current soldiers, we are not only thanking them, we are showing them our love and compassion for what they have done for our country.

    • We really appreciate your comment, Tate, and we’re sure all of our other Wonder Friends (including those who are veterans) will appreciate it, too! Thank you for sharing what you learned from visiting this Wonder of the Day®! :-)

    • We’re super happy that you liked this Wonder of the Day® about the Unknown Soldier, James! We hope you learned some new things! Thank you so much for visiting Wonderopolis today and for leaving us this comment! :-)

    • Hi, Elizabeth! The Tomb is guarded by a special platoon within the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment called the Tomb Guards. They trade places with each other throughout the day and night so the Tomb is always guarded. You can learn more about how they do this by clicking on the links found in this Wonder and by watching the video! Thanks for leaving us a comment today! :-)

    • Thanks so much for sharing your family’s personal connection to this Wonder, Liz! We think your dad is very brave and we appreciate his service and the service of ALL our Wonder Friends in the military. :-)

    • Being a soldier is a very brave and honorable occupation, Dennis! Thank you for visiting Wonderopolis and sharing what you want to be when you grow up! :-)

    • Hello, Mem! Thanks so much for visiting this Wonder of the Day® and for sharing your feelings about it! We think it is sad, too, but we are also proud to honor the life of a person who served our country and made the ultimate sacrifice! We also appreciate the respect and appreciation that the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment shows by guarding the Tomb 24 hours a day! :-)

    • Hi, John! Thanks so much for sharing about Honor Flight! For our Wonder Friends who might not know, Honor Flight Network is a non-profit organization that helps transport America’s veteran heroes to Washington, D.C. so they can visit and reflect at the memorials of their wars. If you would like to learn even more about Honor Flight, you can check out their website here: http://www.honorflight.org/. :-)

  4. Hi Wonderopois People!!!
    :D
    I typed in army on the search box and this looked very interesting!
    That’s why I did this topic. Two new words I learned from this wonder are BURIAL and HONORABLY. I also learned some really cool stuff like, on its Northern side are six wreaths that represent the six major battles of WWI. I also learned that The tomb is made out of white marble. Do you know why they guard the tomb? Do you think maybe someone will try to steel the dead corpse? That would be awkward to have a dead body in your living room. I’m kind an army nerd, do think you could put something about guns or something for your next wonder of the day?
    peace out wonderopolis people,
    Team McNeil 6:D

    • Hi, Team McNeil 6! We’re glad you visited this Wonder of the Day® and learned so many things about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier! The tomb is guarded out of respect for the fallen soldiers who are laid to rest there. It is a great honor to guard the tomb and something that represents how proud and appreciative we all are of the sacrifice the Unknown Soldiers made to protect our country.

  5. Do you think in the future they will find out who the Unknown Soldier is? That would be very interesting to find out in the future.

    sincerely,
    Team McNeil 6 :D

    • We agree that it would be really interesting to find out who the Unknown Soldiers are, Team McNeil 6! With advances in technology, who knows what we will be able to learn about these brave individuals in the future! :-)

  6. It is amazing that they needed to remember so much information to be on the Honor Guard. There is so much dedication on the part of the Honor Guard to prepare for over 7 hours each day just getting ready. Thank you for the connection to why 21 is so important for the Honor Guards walk on the mat. We are wondering if an Honor Guard has to have fought in a war to be picked?

    • Hi there Dublin Room 234!! We are very happy to hear that you have been WONDERing about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the tomb guards who protect the tomb. The tomb guards are soldiers, but we don’t believe that they are required to have fought in a war. Thanks for sharing your comment and for WONDERing about all those WONDERful veterans who have served! :)

    • We are very glad you enjoyed WONDERing about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Zachary. The tomb represents those who lost their lives in war, so the tomb represents thousands of men and women who served their country. :)

    • Hey there, Alyssa, great question! The Tomb of the Unknown Solider is a tomb that represents all those who dedicated their lives to serve their country. Perhaps they were unknown, or have never been discovered when they passed away, but the tomb is dedicated to them and represents their lives. :)

    • We agree, Chase! We should salute all of those who serve to protect our country. Thanks for WONDERing with us today, Wonder Friend! :-)

  7. Dear Wonderopolis,
    I think that is one of my favorite wonder. I come from a very detailed family so that video was especially pleasing. I never new it could take that long to get ready for the day. In the video it looked like that belt was very tight, for me walking all day I would not be able to stand for a week. Those soldiers have great spirit.

    • We’re really glad to hear that your greatly enjoyed this Wonder, Katie! We liked the video too; it’s fascinating to see such attention to detail and precision when it comes to preparing for and doing a job! Thank you for WONDERing with us! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Who is the unknown soldier?
  • What words are inscribed on the Tomb of the Unknowns?
  • Who are the Tomb Guards?

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Try It Out

Ready to watch the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns? The changing of the guard is an important symbolic event that occurs multiple times each day every day of the year.

In the summer, the guard changes every half hour during the day. In the winter, it changes every hour.

After Arlington National Cemetery closes to the public each evening, the guard changes every two hours until the cemetery reopens. Although symbolic, the changing of the guard is conducted precisely according to Army regulations.

During the ritual, the guard being relieved will tell the new guard, “Post and orders remain as directed.” The new guard always replies, “Orders acknowledged.”

 

Still Wondering

Visit Smithsonian’s History Explorer to explore the General George Washington, Military Leader lesson to use artifacts and a historical letter to discuss George Washington’s leadership during the War of Independence and the qualities of great leaders.

 

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