Memorial to the Old Guard: Constructing a Space of Honor
The 3rd Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army – the Old Guard – is, in many ways, the most visible symbol of our military forces. Its members are tasked with bringing dignity and honor to the memory of fallen soldiers. They guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, performing a dramatic and meaningful display of tribute to the unknowns who are buried there.
The Old Guard also symbolizes military honor in its role conducting veteran memorial services and representing the U.S. Army at special events and ceremonies. The 3rd Infantry is the country’s oldest active military unit, founded in 1784, just months after the official end of the Revolutionary War. Because of its extensive history and its visible role in Washington, it is sometimes called “America’s Regiment” and the “Escort to the President.”
After centuries of service to the nation, The Old Guard’s leaders, past and present, decided that the regiment deserved a proper tribute – a monument and new public space – on the grounds of its base at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, in Arlington, Va.
"The idea for the monument came from the unit's experiences following the events of the 9/11 terrorist attack at the Pentagon,” said retired Col. James Laufenburg, the 74th regimental commander of the Old Guard who spearheaded the project. “The sculpture and surrounding site, adjacent to Summerall Field in the heart of the historic district of Fort Myer, offer a wonderful setting to pay tribute to this honored Infantry Regiment."
Our Skanska team had the privilege of working over the past year to honor the legacy of this storied regiment. Our company was selected by The Old Guard Washington DC Foundation, Inc. to construct the outdoor public space for the monument.
Preconstruction services for the project began in April 2011. Skanska followed the project for the next five years providing pricing for the construction aspect of the project, identifying subcontractors, and supporting the project until the Commission of Fine Arts provided approval. Construction kicked off in 2017.
On a 1/3-acre open lawn site, we constructed a granite- and brick-paved plaza, landscaped with trees and hedges. The site includes two new open-air pavilions which serve as the site’s southern entry, while three granite benches grace its northern perimeter. Enhanced with landscape elements, lighting, and ornamental metal work, a large bronze statue is the main focus. The site also provides a reflective space to honor those who have served in this regiment.
The monumental statue sits on a circular granite base depicting three figures facing out around a billowing American flag and a grave marker like those in nearby Arlington Cemetery, inscribed with the words “To Honor Our Own.” Crafted by sculptor B.J. Mungenast, it matches another monument installed last year at Jefferson Barracks Park in St. Louis. The three figures represent different roles of The Old Guard:
- A bewigged soldier with a colonial tricorne plays the fife, one foot raised as if marching. This figure represents the unit’s connection to the First American Regiment, the first peacetime regular army Infantry unit authorized by the United States Congress after the American Revolutionary War.
- A combat soldier crouches on one knee, gun at the ready. He signifies the Old Guard’s participation in military action from the War of 1812 to Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.
- Finally, a crisply attired ceremonial guard stands proudly erect with his right hand raised in salute, representing the 3rd Infantry Regiment’s current duties which include, but are not limited to, providing funeral details at Arlington National Cemetery, guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, providing honor guards for visiting dignitaries, supporting official ceremonies, and providing a quick reaction force (QRF) for the Washington, D.C. area.
Construction projects on working military bases bring some added challenges. All the vehicles, supplies, and personnel entering the jobsite need to pass through security checkpoints. And bringing in something as heavy and cumbersome as a larger-than-life bronze statue requires close scrutiny. Once the site was prepared, the completed statue was shipped to the Washington, D.C. region from the Midwest. Upon arrival at Fort Meyer, it was hoisted by crane onto its marble pedestal. Since the base is a hive of bustling activity during the day, the construction crew used the quiet night-time hours to put the statue in place.
Although the monument was dedicated in May, our crews still work occasionally at the site. They are deeply moved, each time they are there, to witness small groups and individuals using the space—spending time together in the picnic pavilions, sitting on the benches and quietly gazing at the towering figures on the pedestal. We ask our soldiers to give everything to their country, even their lives if necessary. In return we promise that they will never be forgotten, that their sacrifice will mean something. The Old Guard takes this responsibility very seriously, performing their tasks with gravity and grace. This new memorial celebrates their history, honors their mission, and commends the dignity with which they carry out their charge.
By Stephen Skinner and Darick Edmond, Skanska