Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia
Below is the following information on the changing of the guard at Arlington Cemetery and related information as follows:
1- History of Arlington National Cemetery
2- About Arlington National Cemetery
3- Notables buried Arlington National Cemetery
4- Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial
5- Experiences of former guard
6- Detailed information about the changing of the guard
NOTE: Pictures on file copied from the internet did not come through. However,
I left the picture description intact.
1- History of Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery is comprised of land that once belonged to George Washington Parke Custis, grandson of Martha Washington and step-grandson of George Washington. Custis spent his life commemorating Washington and built Arlington House on the 1,100-acre plantation as a memorial to the first president. In 1857, Custis willed the property to his daughter Mary Anna Randolph Custis, who was married to Robert E. Lee.
After the Lee family vacated the property at the onset of the Civil War in 1861, federal troops used the land as a camp and headquarters - beginning on May 24, 1861. In 1863, the government established Freedman's Village on the estate as a way to assist slaves transitioning to freedom. The village provided housing, education, employment training, and medical care. A property tax dispute, amounting to just over $92.07 cost the Lee family their home and in January 1864, the U.S. government purchased the property for $26,800 at public auction. After Mary Lee's death, her son, George Washington Custis Lee sued in 1882 for the return of the property and won a Supreme Court case. He then sold the property to the federal government for $150,000.
As the number of Civil War casualties was outpacing other local Washington, D.C.-based cemeteries, the property became a burial location. The first military burial took place on May 13, 1864, for Private William Christman. On June 15, the War Department officially set aside approximately 200 acres of the property to use as a cemetery. By the end of the war, thousands of service members and former slaves were buried here.
2- About Arlington National Cemetery
The Army National Military Cemeteries, consisting of Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia and Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., are under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Army. The Secretary of the Army consolidated authorities and created the Executive Director position to effectively and efficiently develop, operate, manage and administer the program.
Arlington National Cemetery conducts between 27 and 30 funeral services each week day and between 6 and 8 services on Saturday. The grounds of Arlington National Cemetery honor those who have served our nation by providing a sense of beauty and peace for our guests. The rolling green hills are dotted with trees that are hundreds of years in age and complement the gardens found throughout the 624 acres of the cemetery. This impressive landscape serves as a tribute to the service and sacrifice of every individual laid to rest within the hallowed grounds of Arlington National Cemetery.
Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery is one of the country’s oldest national cemeteries. The cemetery’s rolling hills mark the final resting place for more than 14,000 veterans, including those that fought in the Civil War. The cemetery offers a final resting place for residents of the Armed Forces Retirement Home – Washington.
3- NOTABLES BURIED AT ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
A- President John Fitzgerald Kennedy Gravesite
John F. Kennedy made his first formal visit to Arlington National Cemetery on Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1961, to place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. At the conclusion of the ceremony President Kennedy spoke to more than 5,000 people gathered in the Memorial Amphitheater.
President Kennedy's address began; "We meet in quiet commemoration of a historic day of peace. In an age that threatens the survival of freedom, we join together to honor those who made our freedom possible. ... It is a tragic fact, that war still more destructive and still sanguinary followed [World War II]; that man's capacity to devise new ways of killing his fellow men have far outstripped his capacity to live in peace with his fellow man."
Eleven days prior to Kennedy's assassination he returned to Arlington for the 1963 Armistice Day services. This time he did not address the crowd in the amphitheater.
On Nov. 22, 1963, while on a campaign trip to Dallas, President Kennedy was shot and killed.
There are only two U.S. presidents buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The other is William Howard Taft, who died in 1930.
Though Kennedy is buried at Arlington, at the time of his death, many believed that he would be buried in Brookline, Mass. Woodrow Wilson was the only other president besides Taft who had been buried outside of his native state and in the National Capital Region. President Wilson is buried at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
The Associated Press on Nov. 22, 1963, prematurely announced, "President Kennedy's body will lie in state at the White House tomorrow. ... There's nothing definite yet on the funeral, but it's understood it will be in Boston."
The New York Times announced later that day, "The president was expected to be buried at the Kennedy family plot in Holyhood Cemetery, near Brookline, Mass. He is a native of Boston."
Kennedy's brother-in-law and director of the Peace Corps, Sargent Shriver, arrived at the White House to make tentative arrangements for Kennedy's funeral. However, nothing was definite until the wishes of Jacqueline Kennedy, the president's widow, were known. Her wishes were stated simply, "He belongs to the people."
Shriver prepared for all possibilities and had even contacted the superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery. The superintendent informed Shriver that ample space was available in Arlington and that the cemetery would be ready to handle the funeral.
The first formal statement from Mrs. Kennedy concerning the burial was to model her husband's funeral after ceremonies rendered for Abraham Lincoln.
The research on President Lincoln's funeral was done by Professor James Robertson, the executive director of the U.S. Civil War Centennial Commission. He contacted David Mearns, the director of the Library of Congress. The two men went to the government repository where the lights were inoperative because they were connected to a timer switch and would only operate during the time the Library was scheduled to be opened. Using flashlights they found copies of Frank Leslie's Illustrated and Harper's Weekly which depicted the 1865 funeral in graphic detail. Using this information, the East Room of the White House was transformed to fit the description of the funeral almost a century earlier.
Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara felt that President Kennedy should be interred on federal property so that his grave would be accessible to the American people. McNamara contacted the superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery and wished to see potential burial plots for the president at ANC. Three plots were shown: one near the mast of the USS Maine, one at Dewey Circle, and the third on the slope below Arlington House (Custis-Lee mansion). The president's brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, found the "Maine" location inappropriate and the "Dewey" location inaccessible; however, he believed that the slope below Arlington House was ideal. The final decision was Mrs. Kennedy's. After arriving and viewing the gravesite below Arlington House, she nodded her approval.
McNamara and Robert F. Kennedy returned to Arlington to supervise the surveying of the area. The two men walked up the hill to Arlington House. While they were there, Park Service employee Paul Fugua recounted how on March 3 President Kennedy and Charlie Bartlett had made an impromptu Sunday visit to the Custis-Lee mansion. He went on to recall that after touring the house the president remarked that the view of Washington, D.C., was so magnificent that he could stay forever — a statement which seemed to confirm their selection of the grave site.
Mrs. Kennedy had expressed a desire to mark the president's grave with an eternal flame similar to that of the French Unknown Soldier in Paris. The Washington Gas Company was contacted and a propane-fed torch was selected, as it could be safely lit during the funeral the following day.
On Nov. 25, 1963, at 3 p.m., the state funeral of President Kennedy began. Earlier that day cemetery employees at Arlington, along with personnel from the Military District of Washington, conducted 23 funerals. All were conducted with appropriate dignity and military honors.
Among the mourners at Kennedy's grave site were President Charles de Gaulle of France, Chancellor Ludwig Erhard of the Federal Republic of Germany, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia and Prince Philip of the United Kingdom. Overhead, 50 Navy and Air Force jets flew past the gravesite followed by the president's plane, Air Force One, which dipped its wing in final tribute.
A contingent of the Irish Guard stood opposite the grave, and the Archbishop of Boston, Richard Cardinal Cushing, performed a Roman Catholic committal service. The body bearers folded the interment flag, and the superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery presented it to Mrs. Kennedy. She and Robert Kennedy then used a torch to light the eternal flame.
On Dec. 5, 1963, the two deceased Kennedy children were reburied in Arlington, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy from Brookline — who had predeceased JFK by 15 weeks — and an unnamed stillborn daughter from Newport, R.I.
The initial plot was 20 feet by 30 feet and was surrounded by a white picket fence. During the first year often more than 3,000 people an hour visited the Kennedy gravesite, and on weekends an estimated 50,000 people visited. Three years after Kennedy's death, more than 16 million people had come to visit the Kennedy plot.
Because of the large crowds, cemetery officials and members of the Kennedy family decided that a more suitable site should be constructed. The architectural firm of John Warnecke and Associates was tasked to design and build the grave area. Construction began in 1965 and was completed July 20, 1967. During the period of construction, President Kennedy and his two deceased children were quietly reinterred to the permanent grave, and Archbishop Cushing formally blessed the new site in a private service, which was attended by Mrs. Kennedy, Senators Robert and Edward Kennedy and President Lyndon Johnson.
The grave area is paved with irregular stones of Cape Cod granite, which were quarried around 1817 near the site of the president's home and selected by members of his family. Clover, and later, sedum were planted in the crevices to give the appearance of stones lying naturally in a Massachusetts field.
Lighted by Mrs. Kennedy during the funeral, the Eternal Flame burns from the center of a five-foot circular flat-granite stone at the head of the grave. The burner is a specially designed apparatus created by the Institute of Gas Technology of Chicago. A constantly flashing electric spark near the tip of the nozzle relights the gas should the flame be extinguished by rain, wind or accident. The fuel is natural gas and is mixed with a controlled quantity of air to achieve the color and shape of the flame.
The entire site, a total of 3.2 acres, was set aside by the secretary of the Army, with the approval of the secretary of defense, to honor the memory of the president. The land has been retained for the nation as a whole and has not been deeded to the Kennedy family. The steep hillside has never been considered suitable for graves or a general burial location.
The Kennedy family paid actual costs in the immediate grave area. The government was responsible for the improvements in the surrounding area that provided for the accommodation of the visiting public. Funds in the amount of $1,770,000 were included for this purpose in Fiscal Year 1965's Public Works Appropriation.
In addition, $71,026 went to Ammann and Whitney, Structural Engineers, New York, N.Y. The Aberthaw Construction Company, Boston, Mass., carried out the work under the supervision of the U.S. Army District Engineering, Norfolk, Va.
On May 23, 1994, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis was buried next to President Kennedy. The gravesite was completed with addition of her grave marker Oct. 6, 1994.
3- B- President William Howard Taft Monument
Wreath Ceremony at the President Howard Taft Monument
President William Howard Taft was interred in Arlington National Cemetery March 11, 1930. His widow, Helen Herron Taft, was buried beside him May 25, 1943. Following the president's interment, the War Department placed an order for a headstone with the Vermont Marble Company.
Lot Size: 50 feet by 270 feet
Dimensions: Shaft - 14 feet 5 inches overall height; 2 feet 7 1/2 inches wide; 1 foot 1 1/4 inches thick
Base - a rectangle 3 feet 10 1/2 inches by 2 feet 2 1/2 inches by 1 foot 4 inches high
Material: Stoney Greek Granite
Dates: The Commission of Fine Arts submitted plans and
authority to erect the monument on December 29, 1931. The
request was approved
by Maj. Gen. John L. DeWitt, the quartermaster general, War
Department, the same day. The
authority to erect the monument was hand
delivered to the Commission of Fine Arts Oct. 30, 1931.
Cost: Erected by the Taft family
Sculptor: James Earl Frazer
The stone was to have a Latin Cross in a rosette at the top and the following inscription:
President of the United States 1909 - 1913
Died March 6, 1930
It is not known whether this headstone was ever erected,
after President Taft's death, Mrs. Taft arranged with James Earl
Frazer, a New
York sculptor, to design a private monument for the grave. The
approved by the Commission of Fine Arts and the secretary of
war. It was
erected by the Taft family in early 1932.
The monument is in the Greek stele form, surmounted by a carved ornamental device in the acroteric motif. There are two 6-inch rosettes on the shaft, front and rear, 8 feet 3 inches from the base. A bench of the same material as the monument 1 foot 6 1/4 inches by 5 feet by 1 foot 6 inches high is on each side and approximately 15 feet to the right and left rear of the monument.
There is a foot stone 6 inches by 8 inches to mark the foot of each grave.
President William Howard Taft History
Born: September 15, 1857; Cincinnati, Ohio
Educated: Yale University, A.B., 1878 Cincinnati Law School, LL.B., 1880
Married: June 19, 1886, Helen Herron
Nominated: June 30, 1921, by President Warren Harding
Commissioned: June 30, 1921
Dates of Service: July 11, 1921 to Feb. 3, 1930
Served as President: 1908 to 1912
Died: March 8, 1930, Washington, D.C. Section 30, Grave S-14, Grid YZ-39/40
William Howard Taft was the first president to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery. He was also the only person to have served as president of the United States, and as chief justice of the United States on the U.S. Supreme Court. Taft was born in Cincinnati in 1857. He graduated second in his class at Yale in 1878 and first in his law school class in 1880 from the University of Cincinnati.
Taft served as solicitor general under President Benjamin Harrison from 1880 to 1892 and as a Judge for the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals from 1892 to 1900.
On March 12, 1900, Taft was appointed by President William McKinley to establish civil government in the Philippines. He was named the first civilian governor of the Philippines and was instrumental in establishing programs to build new roads, schools, upgrade sanitary conditions and land reform.
When Taft returned to the United States in 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him secretary of war, a position his father had held 25 years earlier.
William Howard Taft defeated William Jennings Bryan in the race for U.S. president in 1908. During his single presidential term, Taft named six justices to the Supreme Court.
Taft started a sports tradition by being the first president to throw out the baseball at a season opener, in a game between the Washington Senators and the Philadelphia Athletics in 1910.
President Taft ran for re-election in 1912. The Republican Party was divided when former President Theodore Roosevelt ran for office as leader of his new Progressive Party. Taft and Roosevelt were defeated by Woodrow Wilson.
President Warren G. Harding appointed Taft as chief justice of the United States in 1921. Chief Justice Taft created the judicial conference of senior federal judges. Taft served on the Court until his retirement on February 3, 1930, because of ill health. Taft died five weeks after he retired.
Taft's grave is marked by a Stony Creek Granite monument, sculpted by James Earl Frazer, which rises 14 1/2 feet. Taft's wife, Helen Herron Taft, who died in 1943, was the first first lady interred in the cemetery. Helen Taft was instrumental in bringing Japanese cherry trees to Washington, D.C
C- Robert F. Kennedy, served honorably in the United States Navy during late World War II. He was U.S. senator, attorney general and presidential candidate. He was assassinated on June 6, 1968, after winning the California Democratic Primary for President. He is interred near the grave of his brother, President John F. Kennedy. (Section 45)
D- Joe Louis - Tech. 5 Joe “Louis” Barrow "The Brown Bomber" - held the title of Heavyweight Champion of the World longer and defended it more times than any other boxer in history. As a sergeant during World War II, he donated $100,000 to Army and Navy relief efforts and fought 96 exhibition matches for more than 2 million troops. (Section 7A, site 172).
3- C- OTHERS - Col. William Jennings Bryan, USA, Secretary of State, presidential candidate (3121)
Adm. Hyman G. Rickover, USN, Father of the Nuclear Navy (7000) Maj.
John Foster Dulles, USA, Secretary of State (31)
1st Lt. Earl Warren, USN, U.S. Supreme Court chief justice, governor of California (S-32)
Gen. Omar N. Bradley, USA, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Chief of Staff, U.S. Army (428-1-2)
Capt. Robert Todd Lincoln, USA, Secretary of War, son of President Lincoln (S-13)
Gen. John J. Pershing, USA, Chief of Staff, U.S. Army, general of the Armies WWI (S-19)
Pfc. Edward M. Kennedy, USA, U.S. senator, served in the Army from 1951-1953.
Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., USN, served in the Navy during World War II.
1st Lt. Audie L. Murphy, USA* World War II most-decorated U.S. soldier (366-11)
Brevet Brig. Gen. Abner Doubleday, USA (61) - Doubleday is often credited with having invented baseball. (Section 1, site 61)
Lt. Cmdr. Roger B. Chaffee, USN, Apollo astronaut (2502)
Lt. Col. Virgil I Grissom, USAF, Apollo astronaut (2503)
Adm. Hyman G. Rickover, USN, Father of the Nuclear Navy (7000)
Lt. Col. Grissom and Lt. Cmdr. Chaffee were killed Jan. 27, 1967, in a fire aboard their Apollo spacecraft at Cape Canaveral, Fla. The two men are buried next to one another and received full military honors. President Lyndon B. Johnson presented the flags to the next of kin. Lt. Col. Edward H. White the third crew member killed in the fire, is buried at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, N.Y.
4- Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial
The Space Shuttle Challenger exploded on Jan. 28, 1986, just seconds after take off, killing all seven crew members. It was nearly two months before the remains were recovered from the ocean floor, about 18 miles off the shore of Cape Canaveral.
Capt. Michael Smith, the pilot of the Challenger was buried in Section 7A, Grave 208, May 3, 1986. On May 19, 1986, Francis "Dick" Scobee's cremated remains were interred in Section 46, Grave 1129.
Early on the morning of May 20, 1986, the unidentified remains of all seven astronauts were buried near Scobee's grave in Section 46.
On June 12, 1986, the 99th Congress passed a concurrent resolution stating "the Secretary of the Army should construct and place in Arlington National Cemetery, a memorial marker honoring the seven members of the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger."
It was decided by family members and NASA to construct the monument over the cremated remains in Section 46.
Family members of the seven Challenger astronauts and approximately 400 people attended the dedication ceremony on the morning of March 21, 1987, including then Vice President and Mrs. George Bush.
Faces and names are carved on the monument (group headstone of commingled cremains in monument base), but also have remains buried elsewhere, listed clockwise from 11:00:
Smith, Pilot (buried in Section 7-A)
Commander Francis R. "Dick" Scobee (buried in Section 46 to the left of the Challenger Monument
Ronald E. McNair, Mission Specialist
Ellison Onizuka, Mission Specialist
S. Christa McAuliffe, Payload Specialist (and teacher)
Gregory B. Jarvis, Payload Specialist
Judith A. Resnik, Mission Specialist
5- EXPERIENCE OF BISHOP KNIGHT, FORMER HONOR GUARD
Nelson Slagle, the author of the Presidents Page on this web site had the honor of talking with Bishop Knight a former honor guard in 1958. Bishop and I live in the same housing tract and met each other through coaching teams in the same Robinwood Little League in Huntington Beach, California in the 1980’s.
Bishop volunteered for two years of service in the US Army in 1956. He completed basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. He was then assigned training in Heavy Weaponry in Fort Carson, Colorado. His next assignment was in Washington D. C. Bishop didn’t know what his next assignment was but it turned out to be in the U. S. Army Drill team. Among his early assignments was a guard at General Westmoreland’s home. Bishop also was part of the drill team that marched at President Eisenhower Inauguration in 1957.
Bishop was assigned as one of the honor guards at the Arlington National Cemetery in 1957 and served for a little more than a year when his two years of Army duty ended.
Bishop went back to his home in the Pittsburgh area and started courting a local gal. Bishop mentioned that he was in the honor guard at Arlington Cemetery. His date showed him some pictures she took while visiting Arlington Cemetery and asked if he recognized any of the guards. Bishop replied, I recognize this guard, that’s me! They later married and recently celebrated their 54th wedding anniversary.
Bishop recalled many experiences as a guard. Procedures have changed in many ways from the changing of the guard description below. But that is to be expected in almost 60 years.
6- THE CHANGING OF THE GUARD
Changing of the Guard Ritual
The guard is changed every hour on the hour October 1 to March 31 in an elaborate ritual. From April 1 through September 30, there are more than double the opportunities to view the change because another change is added on the half hour and the cemetery closing time moves from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m.
An impeccably uniformed relief commander appears on the plaza to announce the Changing of the Guard. Soon the new sentinel leaves the Quarters and unlocks the bolt of his or her M-14 rifle to signal to the relief commander to start the ceremony. The relief commander walks out to the Tomb and salutes, then faces the spectators and asks them to stand and stay silent during the ceremony.
The relief commander conducts a detailed white-glove inspection of the weapon, checking each part of the rifle once. Then, the relief commander and the relieving sentinel meet the retiring sentinel at the center of the matted path in front of the Tomb. All three salute the Unknown who have been symbolically given the Medal of Honor. Then the relief commander orders the relieved sentinel, "Pass on your orders." The current sentinel commands, "Post and orders, remain as directed." The newly posted sentinel replies, "Orders acknowledged," and steps into position on the black mat. When the relief commander passes by, the new sentinel begins walking at a cadence of 90 steps per minute.
The Tomb Guard marches 21 steps down the black mat behind the Tomb, turns, faces east for 21 seconds, turns and faces north for 21 seconds, then takes 21 steps down the mat and repeats the process. After the turn, the sentinel executes a sharp "shoulder-arms" movement to place the weapon on the shoulder closest to the visitors to signify that the sentinel stands between the Tomb and any possible threat. Twenty-one was chosen because it symbolizes the highest military honor that can be bestowed -- the 21-gun salute.
Duty time when not "walking" is spent in the Tomb Guard Quarters below the Memorial Display Room of the Memorial Amphitheater where they study cemetery "knowledge," clean their weapons and help the rest of their relief prepare for the Changing of the Guard. The guards also train on their days off.
The Guards of Honor at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier are highly motivated and are proud to honor all American service members who are "Known But to God."
Sentinels of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and in any weather by Tomb Guard sentinels. Sentinels, all volunteers, are considered to be the best of the elite 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), headquartered at Fort Myer, Va.
After members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment become ceremonially qualified, they are eligible to volunteer for duty as sentinels at the Tomb. If accepted, they are assigned to Company E of The Old Guard. Each soldier must be in superb physical condition, possess an unblemished military record and be between 5 feet, 10 inches and 6 feet, 4 inches tall, with a proportionate weight and build. An interview and a two-week trial to determine a volunteer's capability to train as a tomb guard is required.
During the trial phase, would-be sentinels memorize seven pages of Arlington National Cemetery history. This information must be recited verbatim in order to earn a "walk." A walk occurs between guard changes. A daytime walk is one-half hour in the summer and one hour in the winter. All night walks are one hour.
If a soldier passes the first training phase, "new-soldier" training begins. New sentinels learn the history of Arlington National Cemetery and the grave locations of nearly 300 veterans. They learn the guard-change ceremony and the manual of arms that takes place during the inspection portion of the Changing of the Guard. Sentinels learn to keep their uniforms and weapons in immaculate condition.
The sentinels will be tested to earn the privilege of wearing the silver Tomb Guard Identification Badge after several months of serving. First, they are tested on their manual of arms, uniform preparation and their walks. Then, the Badge Test is given. The test is 100 randomly selected questions of the 300 items memorized during training on the history of Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The would-be badge holder must get more than 95 percent correct to succeed.
The Tomb Guard Identification Badge is a temporary award until the badge-holding sentinel has honorably served at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for nine months. At that time, the award can be made a permanent badge, which may then be worn for the rest of a military career. The silver badge is an upside-down, laurel-leaf wreath surrounding a depiction of the front face of the Tomb. Peace, Victory and Valor are portrayed as Greek figures. The words "Honor Guard" are shown below the Tomb on the badge.
There are three reliefs, each having one relief commander and about six sentinels. The three reliefs are divided by height so that those in each guard change ceremony look similar. The sentinels rotate walks every hour in the winter and at night, and every half-hour in the day during the summer. The Tomb Guard Quarters is staffed using a rotating Kelly system. Each relief has the following schedule: first day on, one day off, second day on, one day off, third day on, four days off. Then, their schedule repeats.
3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment
The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, traditionally known as "The Old Guard," is the oldest active-duty infantry unit in the Army, serving our nation since 1784.
The Old Guard is the Army's official ceremonial unit and escort to the president, and it also provides security for Washington, D.C., in time of national emergency or civil disturbance.
The unit received its unique name from Gen. Winfield Scott during a victory parade at Mexico City in 1847 following its valorous performance in the Mexican War. Fifty campaign streamers attest to the 3rd Infantry's long history of service, which spans from the Battle of Fallen Timbers to World War II and Vietnam.
Since World War II, The Old Guard has served as the official Army Honor Guard and escort to the president. In that capacity, 3rd Infantry soldiers are responsible for the conduct of military ceremonies at the White House, the Pentagon, national memorials and elsewhere in the nation's capital. In addition, soldiers of The Old Guard maintain a 24-hour vigil at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, provide military funeral escorts at Arlington National Cemetery and participate in parades at Fort Myer and Fort Lesley J. McNair.
Along with these duties, The Old Guard presents historic theatrical productions to audiences in the Washington, D.C., area. One show, "Twilight Tattoo, " is presented weekly during the summer at the White House Ellipse. The show is free and open to the public.
The Old Guard annually participates in more than 6,000 ceremonies, an average of 16 per day.
Despite this arduous schedule, The Old Guard continuously prepares for its security and infantry missions by conducting year-round training, culminating in a rigorous evaluation of unit tactical proficiency. Because of this, all soldiers are as familiar with traditional infantry or military-police duties as they are with ceremonial duties.
The black-and-tan "buff strap" worn on the left shoulder by each member of the 3rd Infantry is a replica of the knapsack strap used by 19th-century predecessors of the unit to display its distinctive colors and distinguish its members from other Army units. The present buff strap continues to signify an Old Guard soldier's pride in personal appearance and precision performance that has marked the unit for 200 years.
A further distinction of The Old Guard is the time-honored custom of passing in review with fixed bayonets at all parades. This practice, officially sanctioned by the War Department in 1922, dates to the Mexican War in 1847 when the 3rd Infantry led a successful bayonet charge against the enemy at Cerro Gordo. Today, this distinction is still reserved for The Old Guard alone.