Changing of the Guard by Cora Wandel

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The Tomb of the Unknowns is guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and in any weather by Tomb Guard sentinels. These sentinels are considered to be the best of the elite 3rd United States Infantry (the Old Guard), headquartered at Fort Myer, Virginia, which is adjacent to and directly behind Arlington National Cemetery, where the tomb is located.

In an elaborate ritual the guard is changed every hour on the hour from October 1 to March 31, and then from April 1 through September 30 the guard is changed on the half hour as well, allowing twice the amount of viewing of the Changing of the Guard during the warmer months when there are more tourists in the cemetery.

The ritual starts when an impeccably uniformed relief commander appears on the plaza near the tomb to announce the Changing of the Guard. Soon the new sentinel arrives from the nearly Quarters of the Guard and unlocks the bolt of his or her M-14 rifle to signal to the relief commander to start the ceremony. The relief commander walks to the tomb and salutes, then faces the spectators and asks them to stand and stay silent during the ceremony.

The relief commander conducts a detailed white-glove inspection of the weapon of the sentinel who has just arrived, then the relief commander and the new sentinel meet the retiring sentinel at the center of the matted path in front of the tomb, then all three turn and salute the tomb. The relief commander then orders the retiring sentinel to “Pass on your orders.” The retiring sentinel commands by saying, “Post and orders, remain as directed.” The newly posted sentinel replies, “Orders acknowledged,” and steps into position on the black mat. Then the relief commander and retiring sentinel exit the plaza and leave the new sentinel to keep guard for the next half hour or hour, depending on the time of year.

To keep guard, the sentinel on duty marches back and forth before the tomb taking 21 steps in each direction, with a 21-second pause at each end before turning around. The number 21 was chosen because it symbolizes the highest military honor that can be bestowed upon the unknown soldiers — the 21-gun salute.


Thank you to the groups “Alphabet Soup”, “Amazing Graves”, “A Place to Call Home”, “Cee’s Fun Artsy Friends” and “Friends” for featuring this photograph.

Camera: Canon Rebel XTi 400D

Arlington National Cemetery is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


  • kathy s gillentine
    kathy s gillen...over 5 years ago

    excellent capture, love the long shadows

  • Thank you Kathy!

    – Cora Wandel

  • Anne-Marie Bokslag
    Anne-Marie Bok...over 5 years ago

    Wonderful shot Cora! I thought you stood next to me…

  • Thank you Anne-Marie! I took this shot a few days ago shortly after the cemetery opened. I was the only one there, which I had never experienced before.

    – Cora Wandel

  • UnEasy
    UnEasyover 5 years ago

    WOW, just….WOW

  • Thank you!

    – Cora Wandel

  • akaurora
    akauroraover 5 years ago

    A beautiful tribute to those who lost a famly member, or a friend …. but most of all for the heroes who gave their lives on that horrific day in U.S. history … 9-11-01. Their memories are emblazoned in our hearts and minds forever!! Congrats on your feature!!

  • Thank you Rick and Deb. Hard to believe it was eight years ago tomorrow, thank you for your wonderful comment.

    – Cora Wandel

  • EmmaLeigh
    EmmaLeighover 5 years ago

    Tremendous shot! Congrats on the feature!

  • Thank you Emma!

    – Cora Wandel

  • Lori Peters
    Lori Petersover 5 years ago

  • Thank you Lori!

    – Cora Wandel

  • ctheworld
    ctheworldover 5 years ago

    Lovely capture!

  • Thank you!

    – Cora Wandel

  • Isa Rodriguez
    Isa Rodriguezover 5 years ago

    amazing poignant image…….. you have captured something truly special .

  • Thank you Isa!

    – Cora Wandel

  • mekea
    mekeaabout 5 years ago

    Wonderful info and capture!!! Great work Cora!

  • CeePhotoArt
    CeePhotoArtabout 5 years ago

    Your cohosts,
    Cee and Chris

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