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Tomb Sentinel's Shoes


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I looked for a thread on this topic as I recently had the opportunity to acquire a couple of pair of dress shoes from a former guard of the Tomb of the Unknowns. These men and women who guard the Tomb are a special breed and their uniforms are also special, from their caps, all the way down to their shoes. While collectors tend to spend a great deal of time researching the blouses worn by soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, I find that footwear is often times ignored when collectors are working on piecing together a mannequin to represent someone's military service.

 

The shoes that I acquired are a pair of Bates' Corfram military oxfords that have been modified for the individual soldier. According to the Society of the Honor Guard Tomb of the Unknown Soldier website: https://tombguard.org/society/faq/ they state that "the shoes are standard issue military dress shoes." I'm honestly not sure whether the Bates brand is an actual "issue shoe," but it is obvious that the pair photographed are made by Bates.

 

The website goes on to state that the shoes "are built up so the sole and heel are equal in height. This allows the Sentinel to stand with a straight back and perpendicular to the ground. A side effect of this is that the Sentinel can "roll" on the outside of the build up walking down the mat. Done correctly, the hat and bayonet will appear to not "bob" up and down with each step. It gives a more formal, fluid and smooth look to the walk, rather than a "marching" appearance."

 

You can note in the photo of the sole of the one shoe that the soles have a steel tap affixed to the toe and a steel horseshoe applied to the heel. You can also see that the sole itself is made of leather rather than rubber material. The leather has been "dressed" with black gloss paint to give the shoe a uniform, gloss black appearance.

 

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Never under-estimate the power of prayer.

 

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On the inside of each heel, you will find a heavy, steel plate that is affixed by screws into the heel. These plates are referred to by the Sentinels as "clickers." These clickers allow the Sentinel to click his or her heels together when making the various facing movements while walking their tour on the mat in front of the Tomb. You will note that the bright metal is exposed in some areas. This is a side effect of the steel pieces striking each other. I was told by the soldier that I got these from that this is another advantage to having a black rubber mat to be walked on during the tour of duty marching in front of the Tomb. The black mat camouflages the flecks of paint as they splinter off as a result of the clicking of the heels.

 

The heel clicks are considered to be the most important part of walking a tour as the soldiers call it. There are times when the changing of the Guard is done in complete silence. It is only the clicks of the heels that allows the soldiers participating in the ceremony to stay in unison with each other.

 

As you look at the detail photo of the heel, you can see that there is wear to the leather upper of the heel. The soldiers who walk the tours try hard to not allow the uppers to touch each other as this contact causes the finish of the shoe to wear down which necessitates replacement.

 

In the second photo you can clearly see that the shoes are made by Bates and that there is a great deal of leather "build up" added to make the soldier the same height as the other guards.

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Never under-estimate the power of prayer.

 

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Now those are fascinating! I had no idea the particulars of their construction...

Only a weak society needs government protection or intervention before it pursues its resolve to preserve the truth. Truth needs neither handcuffs nor a badge for its vindication. -Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy

Peace is not the absence of war, but the defense of hard-won freedom. -Anton LaGuardia


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A couple other "tidbits" to share in the ceremonies at the Tomb. Changing of the Guard ceremonies are governed by the time of year and the time of day. During peak tourist season, the ceremonies occur every thirty minutes. During less busy times, the ceremony is conducted once an hour. After Arlington National Cemetery is closed for the day, the changing ceremonies continue, but they only occur once every two hours.

 

All of the walking in front of the Tomb has led to wear to the marble and to the tiles. While the rubber mat helps to relieve fatigue to the soldier walking the post, it also keeps the tiles from wearing out faster. Remember, these shoes have steel taps and horseshoes which aren't so forgiving as standard soled shoes. One other detail about the steel tap and horseshoe. The soldier from whom I acquired these said that brand new taps and horseshoes are "slippery as hell" for the Sentinels. They normally take a file to the steel to rough them up a little before they attempt to walk a tour in them. I should note that soldiers do occasionally slip while on duty. When this happens, the soldier simply attempts to recover in as dignified a manner as possible. If a uniform is damaged, the soldier will continue to perform his or her duty in the damaged uniform until they are relieved. When an accident is noted, the guard can be changed at the next half hour. Notice also that I have typed "walk" rather than "march." This is because the Sentinels "glide" on their tour. They do not March up and down.

 

Since the badge of the Tomb Guard was established in 1958, there have only been approximately 600 awards of the badge made. This makes the Tomb Guard badge the second least awarded badge in the army. The rarest is the Army Astronaut badge.

 

I asked the soldier about requirements for earning the badge. He said that a typical tour of duty with the 3rd Infantry's "Old Guard" is about 18 months and that you can permanently wear the badge after passing a written and "hands on" test after serving for nine months. He guessed that the badge was only awarded about ten times a year. He also said that a duty day at the Tomb is 24 hours with a soldier getting the next four days off after the duty day. A soldier could walk a tour as many as four or five times in the 24 hour period.

 

When I asked about giving up alcohol and cigarettes for life, the soldier laughed and stated that this is an old wives' tale. He said that some soldiers may give up the bottle for life, but the only sobriety requirement is that they cannot drink while on duty. He said that few soldiers are smokers anymore and that the smell of cigarette smoke on the uniform was a "gig" which could get the soldier into big trouble.

 

The inspections that go on at the beginning of the changing ceremony are real. He said that if a soldier's uniform is not up to snuff, the head of the detail will reject the soldier and not allow them to replace the guard on duty. If this happens, and it does occasionally, the soldier on duty has to remain on duty until a soldier who passes inspection is allowed to relieve him or her. The soldier said that when this happens, it is a "rather emotional event" for the soldier after he is out of the public's eye.

 

I hope you enjoyed the post.

 

Allan

Never under-estimate the power of prayer.

 

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Great write up and items on this Honor Guard Alan! Very fascinating to see the shoes up close. I have been there several times and it is always a very sobering and honored experience to watch them on their "walk". Thanks for taking the time to spell all of this out for us here.

Always looking for 325th G.I.R. and WWII USMC items!
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Thanks for this great info. I remember attending the entombment of the Korean War Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetary in 1958 and even as a 12 year old being impressed with the solemnity of the event. Thanks again!

Looking for:

 

1. CIB with M16 instead of 1795 Musket

2. Rarer current era brassards and armbands

 

Thanks for taking the time to read this!

 

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Outstanding.

Looking for the following:

452nd and 447th Bomb Group items

Anything 12th Armored- especially uniforms

155th Assault Helicopter Company, Camp Coryell, or Ban Me Thuot Vietnam items[/center]


WWII US Navy Uniforms from the Battle Off Samar: USS Johnston DD-557, USS Hoel DD-553, USS Samuel B. Roberts DE-413, USS Heermann DD-532, USS Dennis DE-405, USS John C. Butler DE-339, USS Raymond DE-341, USS Fanshaw Bay St. Lo, White Plains, Kalinin Bay, Kitkun Bay and Gambier Bay...


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The shoes that I acquired are a pair of Bates' Corfram military oxfords that have been modified for the individual soldier. According to the Society of the Honor Guard Tomb of the Unknown Soldier website: https://tombguard.org/society/faq/ they state that "the shoes are standard issue military dress shoes." I'm honestly not sure whether the Bates brand is an actual "issue shoe," but it is obvious that the pair photographed are made by Bates.

 

Yes, these are standard issue in the Army and have been for at least 10-15 years.

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Yes, these are standard issue in the Army and have been for at least 10-15 years.

 

 

CORFRAMS are the standard issue?

 

Surprised-- thought soldiers still had to shine shoes!

 

GREAT information on Tomb Sentinel's footgear!

 

Scott

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Thanks to all for the feedback. I have found the topic to be pretty interesting and the soldier that I talked to was a rather interesting young man. Incidentally, he did NOT qualify for he permanent award of the badge. He said it is REALLY hard to earn one. He did say that he marched "hundreds" of tours in front of the Tomb.

 

Here are a few other details that I thought uniform "geeks" would appreciate. The Sentinels usually spend an entire day making sure that their uniforms are pristine. He said that it is nothing to spend hours on the shoes alone. One of the tricks he mentioned for the Sentinels was to put double sided tape under the tops of the shoes so that the laces would not fall out after being tucked into the shoe. He said that the uniforms are made of wool so that they do not wrinkle or change color when they are wet. Even when the temperatures are at 100 degrees in August, they still wear wool, and yes, they sweat like crazy in the heat.

 

No matter what rank the soldier is, they never wear rank insignia while walking a tour. The only time you will see rank on a uniform at the Tomb is with the head of the detail and head of the relief. This is so that the Sentinels never outrank the fallen who lay in the Tombs.

 

Soldiers can be anywhere from 5'10" to 6'4" in height, but they have to have no larger than a 32" waist. Some soldiers wear girdles or wide belts to provide the proper appearance. He said that while he was stationed at Ft. Myers, the soldiers were constantly doing exercises to keep their bellies flat- sit ups, crunches, weight training, etc. Soldiers are put in teams of eight for the duty day at the Tomb. They are usually divided up by height so everyone looks to be the same size. They can sleep, eat, and rest in rooms below the Tomb, but he said soldiers don't usually sleep between tours, they just prepare their uniforms. He said they will remove their jackets immediately after getting out of the public view so as to not foul the uniform.

 

Male soldiers usually keep their heads closely sheared and are expected to get a haircut before their duty day at the Tomb.

 

While most soldiers look forward to earning medals and badges, I was told that for the Sentinels, they are more of a PITA than anything. All badges and medals have to be placed PERFECTLY and are measured to 1/64 of an inch for proper placement. Medals are worn and have Velcro glued to the drapes and to the pendants and then stuck to the wool to keep them in place.

 

He said that there are some misconceptions/ lies about being a Sentinel. They are not banned from speaking. In fact, he said that unfortunately, it is a normal occurrence for spectators at the changing ceremonies to be admonished to remain standing and to remain silent. He said that while there is a fence to keep people back away from the Tomb, there are always idiots who come across the fence. He said that the offender is verbally warned and if necessary, a second warning will be issued where the Sentinel will slap his/ her weapon and provide a warning for the person to stop. Should a third warning be required, the Sentinel is to go to a "tactical high port" with the bayonet pointed at the offender. While he has never seen this actually happen, there is a plan in place for these fence crossings. People who cross over the fence are normally escorted out of the cemetery. In some cases, they may be arrested for trespassing or disturbing the peace or both.

 

The rumor that they are not allowed to ever drink, smoke or curse for the rest of their lives is just a legend. I mentioned it previously that they are just not allowed to drink in uniform. Fewer soldiers smoke in the army than they did in years past, but there are very few who smoke in the details. Swearing occurs, but they try not to do it while in uniform, and NEVER in front of the public.

 

If anyone has a question, I'll be happy to see if I can get an answer for you. Thanks again for the interest.

 

Allan

Never under-estimate the power of prayer.

 

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Allan

 

Great post.

 

I recall seeing a documentary on the Guards.As stated much detail and regime in preparing the uniforms.Constant polishing and adjustment.

 

Thanks for posting

In Memoriam:
Lieutenant J.Kostelec 1-3 First Special Service Force MIA/PD 4 March 1944 Italy
I HAVE SEEN THE ENEMY AND IT IS DAYLIGHT
Forget about the tips..We'll get hell to pay (AC/DC)
"If you cant get out and run with the big dogs then sit on the porch and bark at the cars going by.."

Have you Hugged a Clown Today?

You Cant Get A Sun Tan On The Moon..





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CORFRAMS are the standard issue?

 

Surprised-- thought soldiers still had to shine shoes!

 

GREAT information on Tomb Sentinel's footgear!

 

Scott

 

Yes, they were standard issue. When I went to basic in 2000 we were issued them. However, we also had the standard issue combat boots, so we still had to kiwi those. After basic I learned new methods into getting a mirror shine on my boots. I don't even think they shine boots nowadays, thanks to the current issue suede boots.

US Army 3rd ID 2nd BCT OIF 2003 Marne Sapper

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I don't even think they shine boots nowadays, thanks to the current issue suede boots.

 

Nope, nothing to shine anymore with corefram low quarters and roughout combat boots. Every deceased 1SG is rolling over in his grave.

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While he has never seen this actually happen, there is a plan in place for these fence crossings. People who cross over the fence are normally escorted out of the cemetery. In some cases, they may be arrested for trespassing or disturbing the peace or both.

 

This actually seems to happen surprisingly often. There are a number of videos on youtube of this sort of thing. People don't seem to get that this is a sacred place and these soldiers are there to guard it.

 

Here's one:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-dBwdeJSGo

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Thanks for posting that B229.

Have seen it before.I agree people are so rude and ignorant.They act like they are at Disneyland or the circus.

In Memoriam:
Lieutenant J.Kostelec 1-3 First Special Service Force MIA/PD 4 March 1944 Italy
I HAVE SEEN THE ENEMY AND IT IS DAYLIGHT
Forget about the tips..We'll get hell to pay (AC/DC)
"If you cant get out and run with the big dogs then sit on the porch and bark at the cars going by.."

Have you Hugged a Clown Today?

You Cant Get A Sun Tan On The Moon..





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Is the changing of the guard performed at all hours of the day, even in the middle of the night? How about in the depths of winter? I know they would never allow it, but how awesome would it be to watch a changing of the guard in the dark and snowy silence of midnight in December?

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Thanks for posting that B229.

Have seen it before.I agree people are so rude and ignorant.They act like they are at Disneyland or the circus.

 

No problem. I'll have to admit that some of the videos are rather funny. I'm sure the people getting yelled at by a soldier standing at high port with an M14 don't think so, but they always deserve it!

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Is the changing of the guard performed at all hours of the day, even in the middle of the night? How about in the depths of winter? I know they would never allow it, but how awesome would it be to watch a changing of the guard in the dark and snowy silence of midnight in December?

 

24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

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Allan - thanks for this great post. Very interesting and educational.

 

Question. You mentioned that the Tomb Badge coule be permanently awarded "...after passing a written and "hands on" test after serving for nine months" yet your Soldier didn't qualify even after hundreds of tours and presumably an entire assignment. Did he fail the test or was there some other reason?

 

I have also heard that awards of the badge can be revoked if a Soldier somehow brings discredit even many years after their assignment.

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24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Rain or shine they are there.

In Memoriam:
Lieutenant J.Kostelec 1-3 First Special Service Force MIA/PD 4 March 1944 Italy
I HAVE SEEN THE ENEMY AND IT IS DAYLIGHT
Forget about the tips..We'll get hell to pay (AC/DC)
"If you cant get out and run with the big dogs then sit on the porch and bark at the cars going by.."

Have you Hugged a Clown Today?

You Cant Get A Sun Tan On The Moon..





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The soldier that I talked to said that there is a ton of stuff to memorize and that there are 100 questions on the written test. He also said that they were required to memorize the locations of 300 graves and to be able to not only quote the lot and row, but also be able to provide verbal directions to each grave. Some are easy like Audie Murphy's grave and President Taft's, some are a little more esoteric and not as easy to remember. He likened the test for the badge to be in line with the tests for the Expert Infantry Badge and the Expert Field Medic Badge. Hundreds test, few are awarded.

 

Permanent awards can be revoked- by the Commander of the 3rd Infantry Regiment. There have been nine soldiers who have lost the badge over the years. The easiest way to lose it is to get a DUI, though getting convicted of a crime entailing jail time can also be reasons. It is possible to have a badge revoked for public statements against the president, the military, or other remarks, but they have to be inflammatory and deemed to be an embarrassment to get your badge pulled.

 

To clarify what I was saying about the fence jumpers- that is really common, but they usually only have to challenge the offender once. It is the third warning with the bayonet pointed that my source said he never personally encountered.

 

I too would love to see the changing of the guard at night, and in the snow, but every single changing ceremony is conducted to the last detail- with or without an audience.

 

Allan

Never under-estimate the power of prayer.

 

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Thanks for a great (and informative) thread.

Looking for: Fourth/ Seventh Rhode Island Infantry items


Purple Heart : Robert L. Freitag KIA ETO 2/11/45


Any US/German items with the last name "Freitag"


also, war-related posters



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