Sacred Duty: A Soldier’s Tour at Arlington

Today is the official publication date of Sacred Duty: A Soldier’s Tour at Arlington National Cemetery, by Senator Tom Cotton. It is now available in bookstores and on Amazon. Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews have already posted laudatory reviews. I cannot recommend the book highly enough to Power Line readers and want only to add this personal note.

I first met Tom (as I will refer to him here) face to face in New York at the 2007 Power Line dinner honoring Norman Podhoretz and his book World War IV. Between his tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, Tom was serving in the Old Guard at Arlington National Cemetery. He attended the dinner in uniform and told me he was serving at Arlington.

The uniform exuded formal authority. I had some sense that this particular form of service was an honor and that the uniform he wore might relate to it. I wanted to know more, but it didn’t occur to me to ask and Tom didn’t volunteer anything else. In retrospect, I feel like a fool. I had no idea what an incredible story he had to tell. In this book he tells it in full measure, along with a history of the Old Guard itself.

It is a story many desire to hear and others will want to know if they become aware of the book. Tom says that questions about his service in the Old Guard are what his constituents (smarter than I) most frequently want him to answer when they ask about his military service.

The history of the Old Guard told in this book runs from the founding era virtually up to the minute, through service arising from the return of unidentified remains from North Korea and the death of George H.W. Bush. His research is thorough and his approach is both both personal and scholarly. The Old Guard is the oldest active duty infantry regiment in the Army. The book tells its story.

I read the book in galley last month. It makes for a compelling and occasionally mind-boggling story. It is a story that signifies: respect, ritual, dedication.

Through the Old Guard the country renders its respect: “We held our nation’s fallen heroes close to our hearts in everything we did.” The rituals observed by the Old Guard dictate attention to the smallest details: “From the care of our uniforms to the precision of our marching to the grooming of our horses, it was our sacred duty to honor the fallen in ways big and small. Our standard was simple perfection in every level.” The attention to detail requires dedication: “A funeral in Arlington is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the family. And for us, service in Arlington National Cemetery was a once-in-a-lifetime privilege.”

Service in the Old Guard is generally by application and requires rigorous training. Few can meet its incredibly imposing standards. Acceptance into service in the Old Guard is an honor conferred by the Army, on the one hand, and an honor fulfilled by its members, on the other. Upon his return from Iraq, someone in the chain of command thought to “ask” Tom to serve as a platoon leader in the Old Guard. Whoever it was, he knew what he was doing. This is a needed, moving, and powerful book (see FOX News segment below).

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