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 November 17, 1925 when a civilian guard would be present during the day. The military posted its first guard on March 25, 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, National Infantry Association and the Military Police Regimental Association, here is what has been uncovered:
Washington Provisional Brigade (MDW)
The units assigned to the Washington area, fell under the control of the Washington Provision Brigade (precursor to the Military District of Washington (MDW) as we know it today). These units were assigned to the Tomb, on a rotating duty. This duty lasted anywhere from 15 days to 90 days.
3rd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment - Fort Washington, Maryland
March 1926 - 1941
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.
16th Infantry Brigade, 8th Infantry Division - Fort Humphreys and Fort Meade
March 1926 - July 1942
On April 22, 1926 the Assistant Army Chief of Staff issued orders to Commanding General (MDW) to select squads for Tomb Guards from Ft. Myer, Ft. Washington and Ft. Humphreys. These units would provide them on a rotational basis:
16th Brigade, 8th Infantry Division
3rd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment
2nd Squadron, 3rd Calvary Regiment
3rd Cavalry Regiment - Fort Myer, Virginia
March 1926 - February 1942
A visitor could tell when the 3rd Cavalry had the duty at the Tomb, as they wore spurs on their boots. In 1932, Major George S. Patton becomes XO of 3rd Calvary, and in 1939 as the Regimental he issues General Order No. 36, providing the standard operating procedures for the Sentinel's assigned to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
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.
13th Engineer Battalion - Fort Belvoir, Virginia
1926 - 1940
703rd Military Police Battalion - Arlington Cantonment, Virginia
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.
Ceremonial Detachment, Washington Provisional Brigade
July 1942 - April 6,1948
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
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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?
Are the shoes specially made with very thick soles to keep the heat and cold from their feet?
The shoes are standard issue military dress shoes. They 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.
The soles have a steel tip on the toe and a "horseshoe" steel plate on the heel. This prevents wear on the sole and allows the Sentinel to move smoothly during his movements when he turns to face the Tomb and then back down the mat.
Then there is the "clicker". It is a shank of steel attached to the inside of the face of the heel build-up on each shoe. It allows the Sentinel to heel click during certain movements. A guard change is considered great when all the heel clicks fall together and sound as one click. The guard change is occasionally done in the "silent" mode (as a sign of devotion to the Unknowns) with no voice commands - every thing is done in relation to the heel clicks and on specific counts.