JFK, RFK, MLK, And Ike: A Sentinel At The Tomb Of The Unknown Soldier in The 1960’s

Joe Swerk


Joe Swerk was born in 1947 and grew up in Newtown, Pennsylvania. His father died when he was 7, leaving his mother as a single parent to Joe and his sister. After high school, he had a college deferral and took two semesters of college, but dropped out and received his draft notice in October 1967. He began Basic Training at Ft. Bragg, N.C., on December 20, 1967, noting that the training was focused on sending replacements to Vietnam. Following Basic Training, some in his cohort received orders for Jungle School, while Joe was sent to Ft. Ord, California, in March 1968. After completing Advanced Infantry Training, he was assigned to the 3rd Infantry, the Old Guard, at Ft. Myer, Virginia. Initially detailed to drive the van for the Tomb Guards, he failed his driver’s test, and was slotted instead as a Guard for President Kennedy’s grave. From there, he worked his way up, becoming a Sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He spent his entire time on active duty at Arlington National Cemetery and, in addition to guarding the Tomb and JFK, also participated in Bobby Kennedy’s funeral, took photos at Ike’s funeral, and was alerted during the riots following Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. He is proud of his service and wishes that more young people today were motivated to serve their country.


conflicts Cold War Vietnam War
topics Teamwork Camaraderie
interviewer Tom McShea
date 14 October 2022


name Joe Swerk
institution Rochester Institute of Technology
service Infantry
unit 3rd US Infantry
specialty Old Guard, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Sentinel
service dates 1967 1969