ATLANTA VOICES: MEMORIES OF VIETNAM
Herb Smith: Guarding The Unknowns
SHARING THE HONOR OF SERVING AS TOMB GUARD
Ret. Sergeant and Tomb Guard, 3rd Infantry Regiment, U.S. Army
Herb Smith was a guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier during the height of the Vietnam War from 1967 to 1969. In this interview, he recalls what it was like to have the honor of serving as Tomb Guard, how he handled his nerves on the first day, and what makes for the perfect guard change.
Herb Smith's Photos
HERB SMITH'S STORY
Herb Smith was a tomb guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from April of 1967 to April of 1969.
“England and France had buried their unknown soldiers in 1920 and they decided they should bring home an American unknown and bury him with honors at the new Arlington National Cemetery.”
There are currently three unknown soldiers there, one from World War I, one from World War II, and one from the Korean War. All remains from the Vietnam War have been identified and nowadays with DNA all future remains can be easily matched.
While in the Army, Smith went to Fort Myer, Va., where he was the only one out of 12 selected to be an Honor Guard.
“… I was assigned to the US Army drill team and while training for that and doing some ceremonies I was asked if I wanted to volunteer to be a tomb guard.”
Since 1937 the tomb has been guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in all weather, including snow storms, hurricanes, and lightning. Some people did protest the Vietnam War at the tombs but thankfully, they did not give Smith and the other guards a problem.
“We did have word that they were going to protest… and they prepared by having additional personnel there… but to my knowledge none of the protests ever made a scene at Arlington Cemetery.”