ARLINGTON, Va. (2/23/2012) - In honor of African-American History
Month, Fred Moore, the first African-American Tomb Guard, recalls
his journey from serving as a firing party member in Honor Guard
Company in 11200, to making history in 1961.
Spec. Fred Moore, Tomb Sentinel, 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old
Guard), walks his tour in humble reverence at the Tomb of the
Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery, Va. Moore became the
first African-American Tomb Sentinel in March of 1961. Members of
The Old Guard have guarded the Tomb every second, of every day
regardless of weather or holidays since April 6, 1948. Courtesy
When Fred Moore entered the United States Army in 1959,
it was an unsettling feeling. It wasn't because Moore was
drafted. It wasn't because Moore didn't have a desire to
serve his country. It wasn't even the tension rising in
Vietnam. Moore was an African-American Soldier entering the
service during the Civil Rights Movement.
three older brothers who had been in the service, and the
advice they gave me before I left was to keep my mouth shut
and don't volunteer for anything,” Moore said jokingly.
But Moore, determined to find his own way, volunteered
for service in the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old
Guard), a decision which catapulted Moore into history.
Moore admits he wasn't very familiar with The Old Guard,
but a series of good scores on the Army entry test, or more
so his stature, made Moore a good candidate.
officer [at the reception station] said you're 6 foot 1, 185
pounds [and] you're the right size for what they're looking
for,” recalled Moore.
Before Moore could give it a
moment's thought, he agreed to join The Old Guard.
was in Honor Guard Company assigned to the 3rd platoon,”
said Moore. “We performed most of the burials at Arlington
National Cemetery. We did parades and different ceremonies
in Washington, Fredericksburg and all around Maryland. We
were the number one firing team.”
he was a well known Soldier in the regiment not so much for
the notoriety his team was receiving around the region, but
for his distinct differences.
“I was obvious
wherever I went,” said Moore. “I was the only black on a
military firing party. The officers would come up and they
would tell me we see you [and] you're doing a good a job.”
This statistic would prove to be in Moore's favor in
the form of a visit from President Kennedy and a Ghanaian
“When [President Kwame] Nkrumah came from
Africa and he and Kennedy were laying a wreath at the tomb,
he asked Kennedy why he didn't see anyone of color,” said
Shortly after, Moore was directed to report to
the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for training. Moore
distinctively remembers the brotherhood he established right
away with his counterparts. Despite being the only
African-American there, no one ever treated him differently.
“They all treated me very very fairly,” said Moore.”You
can't make it as an individual; it's got to be teamwork. You
always need somebody to help you put your uniform on and
make sure it's straight in the back, patting it down for
lint and stuff like that.”
However, on a crisp
autumn morning in March of 1961, as Moore stepped onto the
marble floor to perform his first walk as an official Tomb
Guard, his brothers in arms kept a important secret from
“I didn't know at the time that I was breaking
the color line. They didn't tell me that until after, which
I think was a good idea,” said Moore. “It was enough
pressure just being a Tomb Guard. They thought it was best
if I didn't know until after it happened.
back, Moore admits it was never about making history as the
first African-American Tomb Sentinel, but fulfilling the
“It was a job that I was given, and I just
considered it a great honor” said Moore. “I was always of
the mindset that if I was given something to do, I was going
to do it to the best of my ability.”
humility remains his central point, although for sentinels
who have served after him, he is a celebrity in his own
“I was really surprised the first time I went
back for the Tomb Guard reunion. I couldn't understand what
all the fuss was about. They knew me but I didn't know
them,” said Moore, referring to the attention he received
from soldiers currently serving at the Tomb.
was shocked to learn what all the commotion was about.
“They said you're an answer to a question on the test of
who is the first African-American to serve at the Tomb,”
Sentinels must take a detailed 100
question test, in addition to other tasks, in order to earn
a Tomb Guard badge.
“I think it's a little much,”
laughed Moore. “When young guys talk to me about being the
first, I tell them I just took the opportunity that was
afforded to me, but you guys are taking it to another level
so I am more proud of you all then I am of myself.”
Moore's greatest wish, however, is that soldiers today not
dwell on his monumental accomplishment but find an inner
drive in themselves.
“I hope it gives them the
confidence that they can do anything they set their mind to
do,” said Moore. “I'm not anything special. Certainly if I
can do certain things, they are capable of doing even
By Army Staff Sgt. Megan Garcia
3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment
“The Old Guard”
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