1:30AM EDT October 30. 2012 – As Sandy drove the Washington metro area indoors, the sentinels at Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknowns maintained their vigil.
The U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment, known as The Old Guard, has kept watch day and night over the site in Northern Virginia since 1948 without a moment’s lapse.
Capt. Owen Koch, commander of the HHC 4th Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, says the Army won’t risk the life, limb or eyesight of a soldier to guard the tomb, but so far The Old Guard has never abandoned the watch despite miserable conditions, including last year’s Hurricane Irene and the 2010 snowstorm that paralyzed Washington.
“Miserable is what we sign up to do as infantrymen,” he says. “They do it every day, in the heat of the summer and the dead of the winter. I expect we’ll be able to keep soldiers out there the whole time.”
The cemetery was closed Monday. The soldiers still stood guard but could take shelter under an awning.
The marker memorializing an unknown World War I soldier was laid in 1921, but visitors frequently overlooked it, trampling over it and occasionally laying their picnic blankets atop it. Eventually, the military stationed a guard there. The 3rd Regiment took up the post in 1948.
Since then, “there have always been eyes on the tomb,” says regimental spokesman Maj. John Miller.
The elite soldiers who volunteer for the honor undergo nine months of training. They drill for hours until they are precisely synchronized.
The Army recently awarded its 604th Tomb of the Unknown Soldier guard badge, issued to soldiers who have performed the duty.
“They are there every hour of every day,” Koch says. “It’s an incredible honor to serve with them.”
Donna Leinwand Leger, USA TODAY