Attacking Marine guards at Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is an impressive site. The Marine honor guards are proud, and they do their job , well, seriously.

So what happens when things go wrong? Either minor, obnoxious behavior, or serious physical assault on the guard or the tomb.?

My curiosity arose from the Pit thread running now, about a ringing cell phone ruining the somber ceremony.Somebody responded:

Okay, what did he yell, that was so scary? And other than yelling-- What can the honor guard do if there is a serious breach of security? These guys are Marines–they’re supposed to be tough.

I assume their ceremonial rifles are not loaded, and there are regular policemen on duty nearby, just like any tourist area.
And have there ever been any serious inicidents?

Don’t call them Marines! 3rd US Infantry, (The Old Guard) US Army

(I posted this to an old thread on a smiliar topic, so I’ll just cut and paste it.)

Ready for a FOAF story? Good. Actually, it was my friend who claimed to have witnessed the event, and I’m your friend or so I hope, gentle reader, so to you it’s a friend of a friend.

Anyway, my friend’s story (and he’s a pretty standup guy, for what it’s worth, military aviator type): he saw a guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier challenge a guy who was goofing off and jumping past the barrier when he thought the guard didn’t see. The guard shouted a scripted warning, very loundly. The person did it again, the guard challenged and shouted again. The guy did it a third time and the guard turned, chambered a round in the rifle, and leveled it at him. He then shouted that he had warned him three times, that this would be his final warning, and something to the effect of quoting the text that legally authorized the guard to shoot him.

So if he is to be believed, an honor guard would be honored to shoot you.

The Sentinel’s maintain their own webpage, which has a FAQ list. They don’t reference any specific challenges, but do note that it usually involves someone getting too close to take pictures or little kids getting away from their parents. Given the ability of some people to make complete asses of themselves I’m sure other challenges present themselves.

I don’t doubt that their weapons are loaded or that they’d hesitate to shoot you if you presented a danger to them or the Tomb.

From on the Weapons page: “The weapons used by the Tomb Guard are more than just for show. These weapons are fully functional, and are kept ready for use at all times. The weapon inspection conducted prior to the new Sentinel assuming the post, is a real inspection.”

I suspect, if there were a serious incident, that the Sgt. of the Guard would respond, soon followed by the appropriate civilian authorities, possibly the Nat. Park Police. I seriously doubt that the guard is going to shoot someone, unless they presented a mortal danger.
Here’s the quote from the web site, it’s the only mention of intrusion into the ceremonial area:

"Has anyone ever tried to get past the Tomb guards, or attempted to deface the Tomb?

Yes, that is the reason why we now guard the Tomb. Back in the early 1920’s, we didn’t have guards and the Tomb looked much different (see attached picture). People often came to the cemetery in those days for picnics during which time some would actually use the Tomb as a picnic area (probably because of the view). Soon after, 1925, they posted a civilian guard; in 1926, a military guard was posted during cemetery hours; and on July 1, 1937, this was expanded to the 24-hour watch. Since then, the ceremony has developed throughout the years to what we have today. Today, most of the challenges faced by the Sentinels are tourists who want to get a better picture or uncontrolled children (which generally is very frightening for the parent when the Soldier challenges the child)."

From here:,%20or%20attempted%20to%20deface%20the%20tomb?

BTW, if anyone’s interested, the 1987 Coppola film “Gardens of Stone”, Staring James Caan and Angelica Huston, portrays life in the Old Guard. Caan is an NCO in the tomb guard.

From pravnik’s description, it sounds like they have a whole lot of leeway in how far they can bluff. The tomb is not a military installation – it’s a National Park. So it’s Federal property, but not vital to national security, so there may or may not be an executive order authorizing deadly force. I’m sure the guards are allowed to detain and/or arrest people for any number of misdemeanors that would be incident to crossing the line: desecration of a gravesite, trespassing on National Park Service property, etc.

…but if they had a clear shot (e.g. no other tourists around) and you were dishonoring the tomb, I don’t doubt they’d take a piece out of your calf and then come stand over you while the ambulance took his sweet time.

Discipline trumps machismo.

All true, but I’m betting that it would be a high profile target for a terrorist, just as Mount Rushmore would be. I wonder if that’s made any difference to the guard’s protocol.

Huh? Mt. Rushmore? Not bloody likely. A hit with anything less than an airliner wouldn’t even give Washington a nose job, and there wouldn’t be any casualties to speak of. Also, the silly thing is in the back of beyond, which means no ready media coverage. On top of all that the whole thing is hideous, and the terrorists would likely get an award for the beautification of America.

As for the Tomb…also not likely. Guarded 24/7, no chance of a high body count, below the national radar. I doubt most people outside the US know it even exists, much less could find it on a map.

What good would blowing up Mount Rushmore do? It’s a rock in the middle of nowhere. No casualties. And you’d have to do a serious bit of explosives planting to do much damage, how long is it going to take to wire it up? And would a fanatical islamic terrorist really suicide bomb a STATUE?

Been a long time since I was at The Tomb, do they still use M-14’s? It’s also been a long time since I got out of the Army, but one thing I do remember is that weapons inspection is NOT done on a loaded weapon. Anybody been there lately to tell us whether the guards are seating a loaded magazine following the inspection?

I doubt they parade with loaded weapons. But I am quite sure that every guard carries several loaded magazines. Otherwise, that expensive rifle is just a badly-balanced club.

The only mention of a higher headquarters on the official page states that the cemetary is part of the U.S. Army Military District of Washington. Not part of the National Park Service. It is Army property.

What like the Taliban that was blowing up those hindu statues things in the afgan mountains.


That was different - it was cultural and religious cleansing by the ruling Taliban authorities - not an attack as a means of causing terror and social outrage. The means, motives and targets are quite different.


I know many people who thought Miss Libby was a more likely terrorist target than, say, downtown Philly. Philly is an American symbol… for the Americans. Most foreigners’ brain get an almost-audible noise of gears turning when you point out that Washington DC was not the first capital of the States - it was built with that name honoring the first president, so by that time there already was a capital. Miss Libby or the Empire State are American symbols for the whole world. The Hollywood sign is more of an international American symbol than the Freedom Bell.

That said, Mt Rushmore’s symobology outside of the States ranks from the funny to the nonexistant. There’s people who think Hitchcock invented it for I-think-it-was North by Northwest.

Sorry, didn’t mean to start a controversy. Mount Rushmore was just the first national park or monument I thought of where its destruction might cause a great loss of American morale, the logistics for doing this aside. Kind of a terrorist’s way of saying that nothing in America is safe. I thought the same might be true of The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, that’s all.

Maybe not blow up Rushmore, but perhaps a silly mustache painted on one of the heads? Possibly with round spectacles as well? Could be a real threat.