Tag Archives: The Old Guard

No Snow Days for the Old Guard

Arlington National Cemetery noted this week it is witnessing its first snowfall of the year with a series of photos that show quiet stillness and dignified respect.

(Photos by: Elizabeth Fraser, U.S. Army/ Arlington National Cemetery)

The above memorial is the mast of the lost USS Maine (Battleship No. 10), sunk in 1898, an event that sparked the Spanish-American War. It was dedicated at the cemetery in 1915 after the warship was raised. 

Among the images were some of the Sentinels of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, who stand watch 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in any weather.

Drawn from volunteers of the Fort Myer-based 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as “The Old Guard,” they are equipped with Vietnam-era M14 rifles rather than the more current M16 or M4 variants. Sergeants of the Guard carry one of four custom M17 9mm pistols, specially crafted for the unit by Sig Sauer. 

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at 100

On 11 November 1921, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery was installed as a solemn final resting place for one of America’s unidentified service members.

The mortal remains of that initial Soldier, whose identity was only “Known but to God,” was selected from unknown Americans who gave up their lives in France during the Great War. Over 38,000 Americans were buried in French soil at military cemeteries in the Meuse-Argonne, St. Mihiel, Somme, and Aisne-Marne regions. One set of unidentified remains were selected from each cemetery for review.

From those four sets of identical flag-draped caskets, a decorated GI who had served in the conflict and had been twice wounded, Sgt. Edward F. Younger, selected one to become the Unknown Soldier by resting a bouquet of white roses on its cover. The Unknown was then taken to the port of Le Harve under a ceremonial escort provided by French and American troops and attended by thousands of locals along the way.

André Maginot, the French Minister of Pensions, presented the French Legion of Honor– the country’s highest order of merit– to the Unknown Soldier.

French Minister of Pensions M. Maginot pinning the Cross of Legion of Honor upon the casket.in Le Havre, France, October 25, 1921. Maginot was a Great War veteran himself, who as a sergeant had both of his legs shattered in the conflict. (Bibliotheque nationale de France)

The casket was carried aboard Dewey’s old flagship, the armored cruiser USS Olympia (C-6; CA-15; CL-15; IX-40) on 25 October by Sailors and Marines while the warship’s band played both the American and French national anthems as well as Chopin’s “Funeral March.”

Unknown Soldier’s body going aboard USS Olympia, Le Havre, France, October 25, 1921. The original image is from the collections of the Marine Corps, #521763.

Installed on one of the cruiser’s topside hatches, the Unknown was guarded by Marines and Sailors for the voyage across the Atlantic to the Washington Navy Yard, where Olympia arrived on 9 November.

Casket of the Unknown Soldier in its transporting case on the after end of the superstructure of USS Olympia. (Original image is from the collections of the Marine Corps, #521778.)

USS Olympia (CL-15, originally Cruiser # 6) Arriving at the Washington Navy Yard, D.C., with the remains of the Unknown Soldier, 9 November 1921. She had transported the remains from France. Among the destroyers in the background, immediately beyond Olympia’s bow, are: USS Barney (DD-149) and USS Blakeley (DD-150). Courtesy of Edward Page, 1979. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 89731

A detail of Marines and sailors lift the body of the unknown soldier as the funeral party disembarks USS Olympia (CL-15) at Washington, DC after its trip from Le Harve, France. (Original image is from the collections of the Marine Corps, #521811)

There, the remains were transferred to the escort of the Army.

After laying in state at the Capitol Rotunda for two days and being visited by 90,000 people, the casket was transported to Arlington on Armistice Day, celebrating the end of the Great War that had occurred three years prior on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.

The procession from the Capitol to Arlington included several military units to include those from nine allied nations as well as nurses who served in France, while Gen. John Persing, who commanded the American forces in Europe during the war, walked behind the horse-drawn funeral caisson.

Honors rendered that day included the presentation of the Medal of Honor by President Harding. Four military chaplains (to include a rabbi) participated in the funeral service. A national two-minute silence augmented the thousands in attendance. Flowers and wreaths were massed while salutes were fired. Pershing deposited some soil from France into the tomb. The chief of the Crow Nation rested his coup stick across the tomb as a tribute to the fallen and presented his war bonnet.

Today, Armistice Day is known as Veterans Day and the Tomb has had other Unknowns interred to include the World War II and Korean War Unknowns in 1958 and 1984, respectively. Guarded originally by details from nearby Fort Myer and, since 1948, by an elite group of Sentinels provided by the 3rd Infantry Regiment “The Old Guard,” the Tomb has been reverently secured 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, no matter the weather.

In honoring the 100th anniversary of the interment of the WWI Unknown Soldier, for the first time in a century, the public has been allowed entrance to the normally off-limits Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Plaza this week to place flowers near the memorial.

On Veterans Day, Nov. 11, the public is invited to observe a joint full honors procession, meant to replicate elements of the World War I Unknown Soldier’s 1921 funeral procession. Following this, there will be a combined services flyover of the cemetery and the National Mall in conjunction with the Armed Forces Full Honors Wreath Ceremony to honor the Unknowns and the centennial of the Tomb, set for 11 a.m.

For more information on the Tomb, here is a tour of the display room in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Exhibit at Arlington National Cemetery.

As for Olympia, she lingered on in Naval service, decommissioned in 1922 and preserved as a relic/floating office space at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard until 1957 when she was stricken and transferred to a local non-profit for use as a civilian-run museum ship, a task she continues to perform today.

A lead plaque was installed on the cruiser’s hatch in the 1920s where the Unknown had rested for the trip from France but, sadly, is not on the ship today, being removed when she was decommissioned. However, it is preserved at the NMUSN. 

A commemorative plaque, part of the exhibit of the cruiser USS Olympia at the National Museum of the U.S. Navy (NMUSN), hangs on display during a symposium held to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the Unknown Soldier to U.S. soil after WWI. The plaque identifies where the casket containing the remains of the Unknown Soldier was placed aboard the cruiser USS Olympia during the voyage from Le Havre, France to Washington, D.C. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jalen D. Walton)

M9, relieved

The Beretta M9 Tomb of the Unknown Soldier variant has been used to conduct over 100,000 wreath-laying ceremonies and has been carried by NCO Sentinels on 279,850 Guard changes. It has been replaced by the new Sig Sauer M17 Tomb variant.

In this video, Soldiers from the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) received brand new ceremonial M17 Pistols replacing the M9. The pistols were specially made to uphold standards of the Sentinels of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

More on the new Sig in my column at Guns.com

The spirit of 1898 at The Tomb

While the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington is a hallowed place, established in 1921 with the Unknown Soldier of the Great War and guarded in all weather 24/7/365 since 1937, it has few tie-ins to the nation’s conflicts before the 20th Century. That is about to change in a small but interesting way.

On 18 October, four specially-made ceremonial Sig Sauer M17s will replace the current M9 Berettas carried by the Tomb Guard Platoon’s NCOs (Sentinels carry the M14, and that is not going to change).

These new sidearms are extremely interesting pieces with a non-railed aluminum grip module rather than the M17 (P320)’s standard polymer frame, a high-polish stainless steel slide, wood grip inserts, a 21-round 9mm magazine, and lots of other features.

(Photo: Sig)

Take a closer look at those grip inserts:

They contain the Distinctive Unit Insignia for the 3rd Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), parent unit of the platoon.

The wood itself? It comes from the decking of the protected cruiser USS Olympia (C-6/CA-15/CL-15/IX-40), the former flagship of Commodore Dewey in the Spanish-American War that later brought home the Unknown Soldier of World War I in 1921.

More on the new Sigs here.

The newest badge on the block, for those who tend the stones

Soldiers assigned to The Caisson Platoon, 1st Battalion, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) were awarded, for the first time in military history, the Military Horseman Identification Badge, during a ceremony in Conmy Hall, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va., Sept. 29, 2017:

(Photo by Spc. Gabriel Silva, 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment “The Old Guard”).

Requirements for the badge include the completion of 100 Armed Forces Full Honors Funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, the 10-week Basic Horsemanship Course (BHC), serve honorable for a minimum of 9 months at The Caisson Platoon and be recommended by the Commander of 1st Battalion, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment.

Transferring bases, 1921 style

From the Old Guard Museum:

3rd-infantry-regiment-marching-from-camp-perry-ohion-to-fort-sheridan-ill-1921

On 26 September 1921, the regulars of the 3d Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) set out for their newly assigned post– Fort Snelling, Minnesota. Due to the post-World War I cuts in defense, there was no funding for transportation. Nonetheless, the Regiment set out on a 938-mile road march to comply with its orders.

The 3rd had already been on the move that year, all by foot.

At the start of 1921, the Old Guard was stationed at Camp Sherman, Ohio, having left Camp Eagle Pass, Texas the previous year. In August 1921, orders came down from the War Department. The Old Guard was to march from Camp Sherman to Camp Perry, Ohio (173 miles).

At Camp Perry, the Regiment, along with the 2d Infantry Regiment, helped run the annual National Rifle Match (which continues today). On 24 August, the day after their arrival at Perry, regimental command passed from Colonel Paul Giddings to Colonel Alfred Bjornstad.

Once the rifle matches were completed on 25 September, both the 2d and 3d Infantry Regiments started their march to Fort Sheridan. Once at Sheridan, the Regiment stayed four days to rest and resupply. The Perry-Sheridan leg of the march would be 308 miles, taking the brigade just 19 days to cover (including two rest days).

They arrived at Sheridan on 15 October, some 95 years ago today, averaging 16.21 miles per day– a feat besting that of Stonewall Jackson’s “foot cavalry” of the Shenandoah Valley Campaign which covered 650 miles in 48 days (13.54 miles per day), though with slightly less gun play and with much better boots.

From Fort Sheridan, the 3d was to march on to Fort Snelling, where they would spend the next 20 years and earn the nickname, “Minnesota’s Own” before WWII service and finally duty in the Washington Military District where they endure today.