While it’s a very popular tourist destination, the Tomb of the Unknown Solider at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, focus is usually put on the changing of the guard and the tomb, not those who are guarding it.
Munson Army Health Center is proud to recognize an employee who made history during his service to the nation. Mr. Miguel Matos Mangual is a Network Information Technology Specialist at Munson Army Health Center Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Matos Mangual served as the first Puerto Rican member of the Old Guard, 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, from June, 1979 through July of 1982. Being a member of such a decorated crew wasn’t where he intended to wind up, this career path was rather unknown to him as well.
“I didn’t know anything about the Tomb of the Unknown and their Sentinel,” he reveled. “While I was in basic training the unit had the opportunity to go to Washington, D.C. We were taken to Arlington National Cemetery and I saw the Sentinel for the first time.”
According to Mangual, the job stuck with him since the opportunity he had to visit while in basic training at Fort Dix, N.J. He didn’t really sink in too much until he was in training at Fort Benning, Ga and a few recruiters from the Old Guard approached him. He didn’t want to miss the opportunity to learn and live in the nation’s capital.
While the majority of visitors to the cemetery only see the walking in front of the tombs, there is more to the “walk.” The Sentinels inspect the areas, train each other on the history of the unit and make sure all uniforms are squared away. Doing the job of a Sentinel isn’t for the faint of heart. Neither snow, rain nor heat will stop their duty. Mangual recalled the time he was standing guard in a tropical storm.
“I stood outside with strong winds, rain, thunder and lightning,” he said. “As I reflect on this, I was walking outside, in a tropical storm, with a lightning rod on my shoulder.”
Despite the long hours, being out in the elements and all the hard work – Mangual looks back on the entire experience as quite the honor.
“You are not only a Sentinel of the Guard, you are also a historian. You will learn the history of the cemetery of from the time it was to the present. As you learn more, you truly understand what it means to make the ultimate sacrifice for your country.”
Past and present members of the Old Guard gather every Veteran’s Day for a reunion. While this is always special, this reunion is a little bit more, as it is the 100th Anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The website tombguard.org emphasizes the celebration as “an opportunity to reflect on what the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier means to America.”
Mangual is especially excited for this reunion. He said he doesn’t go as often as he would like, but he definitely wouldn’t miss this chance to catch up with his old friends and be part of the Old Guard’s legacy.