“It is an honor to write about my military service. I was drafted into the United States Army on February 1, 1971. After being sworn in, we were told to get on a bus that I thought was going to Fort Jackson, S.C., for basic training. This was where all the other soldiers had been going, so I had dressed for warm weather. To my surprise, we were taken to Fort Knox, Kentucky, with 6 inches of snow on the ground. Advanced infantry training was at Fort Polk, La.
“The majority of soldiers graduating from advanced infantry training during this period had received orders for service in Vietnam. However, with good timing and very good luck, I was chosen to go to Fort Myer, Va., close to Washington, D.C, to become a member of the elite Old Guard (The 3rd Infantry Regiment).
“The Old Guard is the oldest active infantry regiment in the U.S. Army and has a distinguished history of service throughout our nation’s conflicts; from its creation in 1794 through present. Old Guard soldiers are in Arlington National Cemetery daily rendering final honors to our fallen, both past and present including guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers.
“I was assigned to Charlie Company to be ceremonially trained as a casket team member. This training included how to march with the Old Guard shuffle, how to fold the flag and all the rifle movements. Additionally I was assigned to the platoon that marches behind the horse-drawn caisson that carries the deceased to the grave site in Arlington Cemetery.
“Our duties for a military funeral varied by the rank of the deceased from a simple drop off at the grave site with folding and presentation of the flag to the family to full military honors with the rifle squad’s 21-gun salute. Also, there was the most difficult and complex funeral which would include the 21-gun salute with cannons. This type of funeral would only be for the president of the United States and very high-level officers. Unfortunately there were no current members of the Old Guard that had participated in this type.
“However, our captain advised us that there was one member of the Old Guard that had actually participated in over 1,000 military funerals, including a funeral with the 21-gun cannon salute. We would later learn his identity and practice for his retirement ceremony.
“General Omar Bradley, the only 5-star general that was still alive in 1972, was in bad health. General Bradley had a very famous career as an officer during World War II. The funeral for General Bradley would be a very prestigious event and would be shown on television.
“We practiced for General Bradley’s funeral every time he would be hospitalized; however, he continued to recover during my service. I think there may have been a mix up because one time he sat in a wheelchair on the parade stand and watched the practice for his own funeral.
“We also performed in retirement parades. One of the most memorable was for General William Westmoreland, best known as the commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam between 1964 and 1968.
“Another was the practice for the retirement of the Old Guard member that had been in more than 1,000 military funerals. His name was Black Jack. He was a coal-black quarter horse that served in the Caisson Platoon. A riderless horse, with boots reversed in the stirrups, is the symbol of a fallen leader. “One of the many funerals that Black Jack was the riderless horse in, the fallen leader was President John F. Kennedy.
“Black Jack died after a 29-year military career on February 6, 1976. He was cremated, with his remains laid to rest in a plot at Fort Myer, Va., with full military honors.”
— Clyde West, Vietnam veteran and member of American Legion Post 143.
Thank you Clyde, and thank you for your service.
Robinson, a Vietnam veteran, member of American Legion Post 143, and Carroll County resident, writes a weekly column for the Times-Georgian on veterans issues.