Tomb of the Unknown Soldier sentinel talks of his time as guard
SALYERSVILLE – The Kiwanis Club of Salyersville was joined by a special guest on Tuesday, with a former sentinel of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier telling about his time guarding the tomb.
Don Kronberg, who splits his time between Wisconsin and Kentucky, talked to the local group about his service as a sentinel, guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Kronberg was drafted in 1961 at 23 years of age during the Berlin Crisis, and was about to be sent to Germany when he was asked if he wanted to stay in the U.S., serving the Honor Guard in Washington, D.C.
He left his station in Colorado in a blizzard, but landed in D.C., taken aback by the green grass and cherry blossoms.
Kronberg served in the 3rd Infantry, stationed at Fort Myer, Virginia, first on color squad, then for 17 months as a tomb guard.
The Tomb of the Unknown soldier is guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and in any weather by Tomb Guard sentinels.
“It’s a strenuous thing,” Kronberg described. “You don’t talk unless someone does something wrong and you keep walking that path.”
He started walking in June 1962 and continued until October 1963. He continued to work for “Uncle Sam” until 1998, retiring from the Army. His wife, also in attendance, retired from the Army Reserves after 30 years, but made sure to note she outranked him.
During his time as a tomb guard, Kronberg said they walked one hour, then had three hours off, in 24-hour shifts, then off for 48 hours. He said now during the summer months, they walk for a half an hour at a time, though.
“You ever been in a rainstorm?” Kronberg laughed. “In the heat, in the cold, the snow – they’re out there 24 hours a day and you get all kinds of weather. Even when a hurricane was flying through there, none of the guards left.”
He said at the time he served as a sentinel, people could get closer to the guards, but unless they did something wrong, he couldn’t say anything back.
“You have to become kind of a zombie, but if they cross that rope or whatever, we could slap that gun and let off a loud clap, and they usually got back in line.”
The tomb has been guarded by the Army continuously since 1937. Since 1963, the guards were awarded a permanent badge, which is the third-least awarded badge in the U.S. Military, behind the Astronaut Badge and the Caissons, though the latter will likely have more badges than the Guards soon.
Kronberg explained to the local Kiwanis group that there was a burial for a Vietnam-era soldier, though he had since been identified and moved.
“We should not have any more unknown service persons, again, with the DNA testing now,” Kronberg noted.
The guards had to wear gloves, but for better grip on the rifle they carried, they had to moisten the gloves to hold the M1s.
He also debunked a common rumor that the sentinels couldn’t drink or swear.
“If I hit my thumb with a hammer, I have a few choice words for that,” Kronberg said. “If I am thirsty, I’ll have a drink. I’m human!”
He said they can have the title and badge stripped from them if they do something wrong, but that has only happened 10 to 12 times out of the 663 guards on record since 1963.
He also noted that while they walked on guard, there was a green shack at the end of the path that they called “the box.” If he were to knock his hat crooked or something about his uniform was off, he had to go to that box and ring dial the sergeant of the guard, who would come out and straighten up his appearance.
“We couldn’t put the rifle down and we had to keep walking that path,” Kronberg remembered.
He said the time as a sentinel was a challenge, but it was an honor.
“There’s only a few of us that have done it, so I’m proud of it,” Kronberg said.