Memorial Day memories of the “21 Steps”

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Michael Berry, [email protected]

With this being Memorial Day weekend, hopefully, you take a few moments to remember the reason for the holiday, honoring those military members who have died while serving in or after serving in our country’s armed forces.

For me personally, Memorial Day brings back memories of my visit to Arlington National Cemetery, especially the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the number 21.

Since 1948, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier has been guarded by the Army’s 4th Battalion of the 3rd United States Infantry Regiment known as “The Old Guard.” No matter the weather conditions or time of day, an Old Guard sentinel is on duty marching 21 steps in front of the four tombs, doing an about-face, pausing 21 seconds, then proceeding to march 21 more steps back in front of the four tombs. The 21 steps and the 21-second pause symbolizes a silent 21 gun salute to the fallen.

Each sentinel, dressed in the Army’s Dress Blue Uniform, will continue to do this 21 steps/pause routine for one hour before being relieved with an equally impressive and precise timed “Changing of the Guard.”

Watching this ceremony was a beautiful, emotional, and amazing experience. The timed precision and obvious dedication to detail of these young sentinels are both impressive and inspiring. It is a great and caring salute to their military brothers and sisters.

As a former military member myself, with two brothers who served and a son and daughter-in-law, currently serving, Arlington holds a special place in my heart and memory. I strongly believe it to be a must-visit for all.

To those who served and lay at rest in Arlington, Rock Springs, Green River, and around the world, I say “thank you.”