As a Tomb Guard you are asked many different questions by the public, but the one that we hear the most is: "When did you join the Marines?"
The United States Army was given the honor of guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in 1926, as the Army is the oldest of the military services. Prior to 1926, there were no military guards posted at the Tomb. In fact, after the internment of the Unknown Soldier in 1921, the Tomb remained unguarded until 1925, when a civilian guard would be present during the day. The military posted its first guard on March 25th, 1926.
The Army has been the only military service to guard the Unknown Soldiers.
In the short time since the first internment, there have been very few units that have guarded the Unknown Soldiers. Due to the restructuring of the Army prior to our involvement in World War II, the clear lines of units have been lost. With the help of the Old Guard Museum, here is what has been uncovered:
16th Infantry Brigade, 8th Infantry Division
March 1926 - July 1942
The units assigned to the Washington area, fell under the control of the 8th Infantry Division. These units were assigned to the Tomb, on a rotating duty. This duty lasted anywhere from 15 days to 90 days.
12th Infantry Regiment - Fort Washington, Maryland
The 12th Infantry helped build the South Post of Fort Myer. With the start of World War II, the 12th Infantry was assigned to the 4th Infantry Division, and a cadre of soldiers formed the 703rd Military Police Battalion.
13th Engineer Battalion - Fort Belvoir, Virginia
703rd Military Police Battalion
The 703rd Military Police Battalion, was formed after the 12th Infantry Regiment was transferred to combat duty. The cadre that formed the Military Police Battalion came from the older veterans of World War I, and the newest recruits and draftees.... still learning their weapons.
3rd Cavalry Regiment
March 1926 - February 1942
While the 3rd Cavalry was not assigned to the 8th Infantry Division, they were part of the rotation duty at the same time. The 3rd Cavalry was later re-designated as the 3d Cavalry Group (Mechanized) and assigned to the XX Corps, which was part of George Patton's famous Third U.S. Army. A visitor could tell when the 3rd Cavalry had the duty at the Tomb, as they wore spurs on their boots.
Ceremonial Detachment, Washington Provisional Brigade
July 1942 - April 1948
1st Battalion, 3d U.S. Infantry (The Old Guard)
April 6, 1948 - Present
The Old Guard is the oldest Infantry unit in the Army, dating back to June of 1784. It was given the name "The Old Guard of the Army" by General Winfield Scott after a bayonet charge on the Mexican citadel Chapultepec in 1847.
A Company (Ceremonial Company)
1948 - 1957
Mortar Battery (Honor Guard)
1957 - 1963
E Company (Honor Guard)
1963 - 1999
1999 - Present
Support the Society
The Society of the Honor Guard, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (SHGTUS) is able to provide our programs, events, assistance, scholarships, and services due to the generosity of its members, organizations, and individuals. SHGTUS does not receive institutional funding. Note: The Society of the Honor Guard, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a 501(c)(3) organization, so your contributions may be fully tax deductible.
Did you know?
How many Sentinels have been female?
There have been over 630 tomb guards awarded the badge since 1958 when we started counting. There are hundreds more from the year 1926 when the Army started guarding the Tomb. The 3rd US Infantry (The Old Guard) is the unit that has been given the duty of guarding the Tomb. It was given this sacred duty in 1948. The Old Guard was -- and still is -- considered a combat unit. As an Infantry unit, females were not permitted in the ranks for many years. It wasn't until 1994 that females were permitted to volunteer to become a Sentinel when the 289th Military Police Company was attached to the Old Guard. The MP branch is a combat support unit and includes females.
In 1996, SGT Heather Johnson became the first female to earn the Tomb Guard Identification Badge. She volunteered for duty in June 1995 and earned her badge in 1996. However, SGT Johnson was not the only female Sentinel. Since then, there have been three additional female Sentinels awarded the Tomb Guard Identification Badge. SGT Danyell Wilson earned her badge in 1997, SSG Tonya Bell received hers in 1998, and SGT Ruth Hanks earned her badge, #643 in June 2015.
Several other units have since been attached to the Old Guard -- food service, transportation, medics, etc. -- so now females have an ever greater opportunity to become a Sentinel. Females must meet the same requirements as the male soldiers to be eligible to volunteer at the Tomb. the only difference is that females have a minimum height of 5'8" -- which is the same standard to be a member of the Old Guard.