A very rare mission… with an even rarer ending…
After a 36 months tour of duty at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, SSG Ty Vickers was to walk his last walk…
A rainy Saturday, 13 MAR 2010, the on-again off-again “liquid sunshine” kept coming in bands that at times were real soakers. When I arrived at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Tomb Guard was wearing his ”Ceremonial Blue” uniform, despite the rain. Normally, the sentinels are dressed for the weather and I had expected to see him in a raincoat. While he guarded the Tomb, preparations were already underway for the “last walk” commencing at noon.
Among those in attendance on the plaza were MG Karl Horst, Commanding General of the Military District of Washington, CSM Michael Williams also of the Military District of Washington, COL David P. Anders, Regimental Commander of 3d Infantry Regiment – “The Old Guard” and many of the past and current Tomb Guards.
As the bells tolled the noon hour, the changing of the guard commenced – a final inspection including the thorough inspection of his weapon by the commander of the relief and SSG Vickers began his last walk guarding the Tomb of the Unknowns.
It was barely ten minutes into this historic event and the rain once again began to fall – heavy rain, steady rain and SSG Vickers stood his watch walking the mat as he had done for many months during his tour. His Ceremonial Blue uniform absorbing the steady drops of rain, his dedication to his mission never waivered… never faltered… his 21 steps back and forth in front of The Tomb declaring the silent highest honor to those who had given so much. Each click of his heels marking the change of direction, the change of his rifle from one shoulder to the other so precise, despite the falling rain.
As the bells once again rang proclaiming the end of the hour, and another change of the guard, SSG Vickers once again for the “last time” passed on his orders to the relief Tomb Guard. And for the “last time” was ordered to “Fall-out”… and returned to the Guards’ living quarters to leave his rifle there.
In a few moments, he returned bearing in his hands red roses. As he walked again towards the Tomb, he stopped and presented a rose to his mother, then removed his white gloves and presented those to his wife. Saluting the officers lining his route back to the Tomb, he approached the center of the plaza and faced the Tomb saluting. Then approached the sarcophagus of the WW I Unknown , saluted, then reverently knelt on one knee and placed one of the roses at the base, finishing up with another salute. He then proceeded to the WW II crypt, saluted once again and another rose was placed followed by a salute.
Next onto the Korean War Unknown’s crypt – another salute from SSG Vickers, the rose placed gently with another salute to this Unknown and finally one more salute at the crypt dedicated to those of the Vietnam War, the last rose in SSG Vickers’ hand placed and one more salute.
As he returned to center of the plaza and rendered one more salute, a bugler from the US Army’s Band began to play TAPS… SSG Vickers then left the plaza and saluted and was congratulated by his relief commander, the General, the Colonel, and Command Sergeant Major and others lining his route back to the Guards’ living quarters.
As SSG Ty Vickers would say … Line 6!
Please note: the Tomb Guard badge is a very coveted award with less than 600 earned and awarded since 1958. The last walk ceremony of placing roses at the crypts of the Unknowns has (based on information provided) been done since the 1980s – so it is one of the most rarest missions done within “The Old Guard” – 3rd Infantry Regiment, US Army.
Tags: 3d Infantry Regiment, Arlington National Cemetery, Escort to the President, military, Military District of Washington, Sentinel, The Old Guard, Tomb Guard, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Tomb of the Unknowns, US Army