Tomb of the Unknown sentinel stands in face of Sandy

WASHINGTON – As Hurricane Sandy forced schools, local governments and mass transit to shut down along the Eastern Seaboard, a member of The Old Guard continued his vigilance at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

But not with the familiar, choreographed 21 paces that the public typically sees.

Spc. Brett Hyde, Tomb Sentinel, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), is one of several sentinels keeping guard over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier during inclement weather caused by Hurricane Sandy at Arlington National Cemetery, which closed before the storm.

Afterward, when morning funerals were completed, the Old Guard soldiers were still on duty but had moved into an enclosure covered by a green awning known as “the box,” about 20 feet away from the tomb, according to regiment spokesman Maj. John Miller.

He said if the weather becomes intolerable, the tomb can also be guarded from a room inside a nearby amphitheater. But no such order was given on Monday afternoon.

The Tomb of the Unknowns is guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and in any weather by Tomb Guard sentinels. Sentinels, all volunteers, are considered to be the best of the elite and headquartered at Fort Myer, Va.

While on duty the Tomb Sentinel crosses a 63-foot-rubber surfaced walkway in exactly 21 steps. He then faces the Tomb for 21 seconds, turns again, and pauses an additional 21 seconds before retracing his steps.

The 21 is symbolic of the highest salute according to dignitaries in military and state ceremonies.

Members of The Old Guard have guarded the Tomb every second, of every day regardless of weather or holidays since April 6, 1948.

The Associated Press and WTOP’s Meera Pal contributed to this story. Follow WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)