At the end of World War Two, 78,750 Americans were “missing” and simply listed as MIA and assumed dead. That represents more than 19 percent of the 405,399 total killed. We continue to search for them and now, seven decades later, the number still missing from WWII is 73,692 as of November, 2011. Identities of the 5,058 can sometimes be established by dog tags or other personal property.

At the end of the Vietnam War, 2,550 Americans were MIA. As of November, 2011 that number was 1,681 which is 2.9 percent of the 58,152 killed. Vietnam was the first war for which DNA identification was possible. This means that any remains that are recovered can probably be identified and will not be “unknown.”

There are no MIAs from the Gulf War and therefore no unknowns. Likewise Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier recognizes a sad fact of war: For most of history, the families of soldiers realized that the soldier had died only because he did not return home. This was certainly true as recently as the two world wars. Those families have no date of death. Even the realization must have come slowly as they hold out hope. Tens of thousands of 20th Century American widows died without closure, as did essentially all of the war widows of the 19th Century.

And so at latitude 38.87638 North, longitude 77.07217 West we Americans have erected a solemn memorial to those among us who went to war and were never returned to their families. At that location we have interred one American warrior from WWI, one from WWII and one from the Korean War. The memorial is inscribed:


The memorial has been guarded continuously – every second, 24/7 – since July 2, 1937.  From Wikipedia:

It is considered one of the highest honors to serve as a Sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Fewer than 20 percent of all volunteers are accepted for training and of those only a fraction pass training to become full-fledged Tomb Guards. This attrition rate has made the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Identification Badge the 2nd least awarded decoration of the United States Military (the first being the Army Astronaut Badge, no longer being issued).

The soldier "walking the mat" does not wear rank insignia on his or her uniform so that they do not outrank the Unknowns, whatever their rank may have been. Non-commissioned officers (usually the Relief Commander and Assistant Relief Commanders), do wear insignia of their rank when changing the guard only. They have a separate uniform (without rank) that is worn when they actually guard the Unknowns or are "Posted".

There is a meticulous routine which the guard follows when watching over the graves:

1. The soldier walks 21 steps across the Tomb. This alludes to the twenty-one gun salute, which is the highest honor given to any military or foreign dignitary in America. His weapon is always on the shoulder opposite the Tomb (i.e., on the side of the gallery watching the ritual).

2. On the 21st step, the soldier turns and faces the Tomb for 21 seconds.

3. The soldier then turns to face the other way across the Tomb and changes his weapon to the outside shoulder.

4. After 21 seconds, the first step is repeated.

During the day in summer months from April 1 to September 30, the guard is changed every half hour. During the winter months, from October 1 to March 31, the guard is changed every hour. After the cemetery closes to the public (7 p.m. to 8 a.m. April through September, and 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. October through March), the guard is changed every 2 hours. The ceremony can be witnessed by the public whenever Arlington National Cemetery is open.

The Tomb Guards, a special platoon within the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) work on a team rotation of 24 hours on, 24 hours off, for five days, taking the following four days off. A guard takes an average of six hours to prepare his uniform – heavy wool, regardless of the time of year – for the next day's work. In addition to preparing the uniform, guards also complete physical training, Tomb Guard training, cut their hair before the next work day, and shave twice per day.

(end of Wiki quotations)

On Saturday, February 18, 2012, under the supervision of 3rd IR Old Guard SGT Vincent, a small group of middle school students from Sandwich, Illinois laid a wreath at that tomb. They included Samantha, daughter of Jim West, a member of the Illinois Old Guard. Four photos, taken by Jim, follow:





Ahmed Altaie was born in Iraq in 1965. At the age of nine, his family emigrated to the United Kingdom where he was educated through high school. He moved to Michigan, married another Iraqi emigrant, joined our army reserve in December 2004 and was deployed to Iraq in November 2005.

On October 23, 2006 he left his base without telling anyone to visit his in-laws and was kidnapped. A ransom was demanded on November 2, 2006. On December 11, 2006 he was officially listed as “missing – captured”. A video of Ahmed was posted to a website on February 14, 2007.

On February 25, 2012 the medical examiner at Dover Port Mortuary positively identified his remains. There are now no POWs or MIAs from the Iraq War.

On August 2, 2009 the medical examiner at Dover Port Mortuary positively identified the remains of Navy Pilot Michael Speicher. There are now no POWs or MIAs from the Gulf War.

There are no MIAs from the current War in Afghanistan. There is one POW. Bowe Bergdahl went missing on June 30, 2009 and was declared “missing – captured” three days later. See:

We killed bin Laden on May 2, 2011 and four days later his father posted a video pleading for the life of his son. See:







And, less than a month later, another gourp of local kids on another educational tour of our nation's capitol repeated the trubute: