Sunday, May 19, 2019

Books: Senator Tom Cotton's "Sacred Duty" At Arlington

Sacred Duty: A Soldier's Tour at Arlington National Cemetery
By Tom Cotton, U.S. Senator from Arkansas
William Morrow; hardcover, $28.99; E-book, $22.99

Tom Cotton is the United States Senator from Arkansas. He served in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division and in Afghanistan with a Provincial Reconstruction Team. His military decorations include the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman Badge, and the Ranger Tab.

Between combat tours, for sixteen months over 2007 and 2008, he served with the United States Army's Third Infantry Regiment at Arlington National Cemetery. The elite unit is known as "The Old Guard," these soldiers have embodied the ideals of honor and sacrifice across our nation's history.

Senator Cotton's new book, Sacred Duty: A Soldier's Tour at Arlington National Cemetery, is an inspiring portrait of this prestigious unit, and a personal chronicle of his time as a platoon leader in the unit.

Senator Tom Cotton.

In writing and researching the book, Senator Cotton returned to Arlington and shadowed the regiment's soldiers, from daily funerals to the state funeral of President George H.W. Bush. He relived the honor, as well as the challenges, of duty at the nation's "most sacred shrine," whose hallowed grounds contain some of the most famous names in military and political history, including presidents, Supreme Court justices, five-star generals, and Medal of Honor recipients, as well as liberated slaves, and, at the fabled Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the bodies of soldiers known only to God.

"Most Americans who visit Arlington National Cemetery do not know about The Old Guard's long and distinguished history on the battlefield, or that it remains an infantry regiment with the training standards of other active-duty infantry units," Senator Cotton writes. "They do not see soldiers loading combat gear for the drive to training ranges at Fort A.P. Hill, ninety miles to the south. They observe instead the Changing of the Guard at the Unknown Soldier, watch the horse-drawn caisson roll along Arlington's avenues, or catch a glimpse of soldiers marching in a funeral. These funerals and ceremonies are indeed The Old Guard's primary missions, as they have been since 1948.
"Yet the regiment's lineage runs back three times longer in American history; indeed, The Old Guard is older than our Constitution. For more than a century and a half, The Old Guard fought our nation's battles from the frontier to the Civil War, from Mexico to the Philippines. The Old Guard is literally The Old Guard, the oldest active-duty infantry regiment in the Army. Old Guard soldiers live this history every day. Their uniforms bear distinctive insignia, such as the eighteenth-century buff strap, to commemorate the regiment's origins - and some soldiers wear a colonial uniform for ceremonies. The soldiers march with bayonets fixed, a privilege reserved only to The Old Guard, to honor the regiment's bravery in the Mexican War. And the regimental colors bear fifty-five campaign streamers to celebrate The Old Guard's history of battlefield valor. While these echoes of the past may not be apparent to outsiders, Old Guard soldiers cannot help but soak in their rich history and hold themselves to the exacting standards of their forerunners.
"The professionalism, the precision, and the striving toward perfection for which The Old Guard is so well known have their roots not only in the history and solemnity of Arlington, but also in the regiment's own distinguished history. That story begins with The Old Guard's colonial roots and its early defense of our young republic."

Selection into The Old Guard's ranks is extremely rigorous, and its soldiers serve to remind Americans that tradition, honor, and devotion still matter. Senator Cotton's tour coincided with the height of the Surge in Iraq in 2007, and consequently, he carried the flag-draped remains of his fallen comrades off airplanes at Dover Air Force Base and laid to rest the fallen from the war on terror, who were soldiers his own age, in Section 60, "the saddest acre in America." He also performed hundreds of funerals for veterans of the Greatest Generation, as well as the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

Senator Cotton writes, "The young soldiers of The Old Guard  embody the meaning of words such as patriotism, duty, honor, and respect. These soldiers are the most prominent public face of our Army, perform the sacred last rites for our fallen heroes, and watch over them into eternity. The Old Guard represents to the public what is best in our military, which itself represents what is best in us as a nation.
"These young soldiers are entrusted with our nation's most poignant, sacred rituals: the care and honors for those killed in action overseas. After their units memorialize them downrange, The Old Guard welcomes these fallen warriors home at Dover Air Force Base. And their journey home sometimes ends in Section 60, where The Old Guard lays them to rest among the other heroes of their generation.
"The Old Guard has performed these and other critical missions for our nation since 1784. Old Guard soldiers belong to the oldest active-duty infantry regiment in the Army, three years older than the Constitution itself. The Old Guard fought in Mexico alongside Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee. They faced off against the rebel commander in the Civil War and served at Appomattox Court House when he surrendered to the great Union general. In between, they had camped at Lee's old farm, which started as a memorial to President George Washington, but was destined to become the nation's 'most sacred shrine.' This legacy lives on each day at The Old Guard, and not merely among military-history buffs. I never served in or witnessed another unit so linked to its past and the bravery of its forerunners. That history is a call to arms for today's Old Guard soldiers to uphold the highest standards of what is known as America's Regiment."

Sacred Duty is a testament to the timeless power of service and sacrifice to the greatest nation in the world, and it is a reflection on those who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom.

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