Lives, Duties, Levels of Commitment

The beloved Canadian, Alex Trebek, game show host of Jeopardy for 36 years and over 8,200 episodes, succumb to pancreatic cancer on November 8, 2020, following his very transparent and valiant effort to stay with us a while longer. I like to think of him as “The Old Guard,” who honored, protected, and preserved the integrity of his legacy. In fact, Alex wrapped filming on Oct. 29, 2020, just nine days before his death; no one knew then it would be his last day in the studio!” For those few of you who may never have seen this classy television quiz show (highly unlikely),”Jeopardy is a classic game show — with a twist. The answers are given first, and the contestants supply the questions. One of the likely results of Trebek’s highly publicized illness has been the resurgence of one post on social media that dates back to a Final Question aired in the early 2000’s. The final question was: “How many steps does the guard take during his walk across the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier?” All three contestants answered incorrectly. FYI A female first volunteered for sentinel duty in June 1995 and earned her badge in 1996. Since then, there have been three additional female Sentinels awarded the Tomb Guard Identification Badge:

Next, follows a series of other trivia-like questions posted about the lives, duties, and levels of commitment made by sentinels at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington County, Virginia out of honor and respect for their fallen brothers.

Twenty-four hours a day, soldiers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as “The Old Guard,” stand watch over the Tomb. The Tomb Guards, also called Sentinels, are chosen for this prestigious and highly selective post only after rigorous training and a demanding series of examinations. The Old Guard has held this distinguished duty since 1948. Please visit The Changing of the Guard to learn more about this memorial and its history.

Below, I have listed for your reading enjoyment the series of questions commonly found on social media about the Tomb and its guardsmen:

  1. How many steps does the sentinel take during his/her 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. Snopes says: The guards do make 21-step walks past the Tomb of the Unknowns because 21 is considered a number of special significance. It relates to a naval “code” of canons on land replying with 21 shots to a ship’s 7-gun salute.
  2. How long does a Sentinel wait after his/her about face to begin his return walk and why? 21 seconds for the same reason as above.
  3. Why are the sentinels’ gloves wet? Gloves are moistened to prevent the guard from losing his/her grip on the rifle. Snopes says: Correct.
  4. Does the sentinels’ carry his/her rifle on the same shoulder all the time and if not, why not? He carries the rifle on the shoulder away from the tomb. After his march across the path, he/she executes an about face and moves the rifle to the outside shoulder. Snopes says: OK.
  5. How often are the sentinels changed? Guards are changed every thirty minutes, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year. Snopes says: From 1926 through 1937, the Tomb was guarded only during daylight hours. Ever since 1937, it has been continuously guarded 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Sentinel guards are changed every thirty minutes between 8 AM and 7 PM during the period from early Spring to early Autumn (April 1 through September 30), and every hour between 8 AM to 5 PM the rest of the year. At all other times (i.e., while the cemetery is closed), the guard is changed every two hours.
  6. What are the physical traits of the guard limited to? ANS: 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…

Other claims posted on social media:

  • Sentinels cannot drink any alcohol on or off duty for the rest of their lives. Snopes says: Incorrect. There are no restrictions on sentinels’ off-duty drinking.
  • After two years, the sentinel is given a wreath pin that is worn on his/her lapel signifying they served as sentinel of the tomb. There are only 400 presently worn. The sentinel must obey these rules for the rest of their lives or give up the wreath pin. Snopes says: Incorrect. The badge is worn on the pocket of a uniform jacket, not a pin worn on the lapel.

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