Lorain native recognized with special badge for Arlington duty
AMHERST — If the word pride ever needs an illustration in the dictionary, no finer example could be found than Joseph Temerario.
At age 67, his six-foot frame stands as it did in 1956 and 1957, when he served as a guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery. If you spend a few minutes with him reminiscing about those days you'll find yourself sitting straighter in your chair.
A resident of Cape Coral, Florida, since 1993, the Lorain born-and-bred Temerario was honored last month in a ceremony in Arlington, Virginia, when Army presented him with his Honor Guard badge. Guards at the tomb have worn the badge since 1958, but Temerario was among the last group who were discharged before the badge was created.
”We helped design it, but it wasn't available until after I served,” said Temerario, who shared his experience from his son David's home in Amherst.
The badge has the words ‘Honor Guard' in capitals. Above them are the three figures representing Victory, Valor and Peace that are carved into the tomb's east face.
Temerario's enthusiasm for his guard duty is as great today as when he served as a sentinel, or ”stone soldier,” as they were popularly called. ”You could pick out an honor guard in any group of ordinary soldiers,” he said. ”Even in civilian clothes, we stood out.” He said only 539 men have earned the badge he received last month. He added that in the military, only astronauts represent a smaller group.
”You had to be on the army drill team,” he explained. ”It was competition drilling — you put on shows for people.” Temerario described the practice as grueling hours of repetition. ”Four guys would line up in front of a mirror to practice a routine and we kept at it until you could only see one.”
Guards had to be between 5 feet 11 inches and 6 feet 2 inches, he said. ”At the changing of the guard you wanted to see three guys the same height.” Temerario served one hour on, three hours off, for a 24-hour shift. Applicants were selected for their appearance in uniform. The high standards came easily to Temerario, who said he was voted ”Best Dressed” in his Lorain High School Class of 1955.
A guard's uniforms and equipment received hours of upkeep. ”We'd be allowed to pick out a rifle,” he recalled, from a standard shipment of M-1's. ”You would then finish the stock like a piece of furniture. You'd see them done in blonde, mahogany, black walnut or cherry. Ten or 15 coats of lacquer wasn't unusual.” He said the rifles were so prized that if another soldier asked to see your weapon, ”you told him sure, if he took his rings off.”
Temerario was proud of his dress blues. ”We were the only enlisted men who got blue uniforms back then, like officers,” he said. ”After Vietnam, all the enlisted men got them too.”
Uniforms were also given careful attention. ”We'd take the brass buttons off and polish them individually,” he said. ”The eagles on those buttons had feathers, but we polished them smooth. Out in the sun they shined so bright you could hardly look at them.” Back then, Temerario explained, regular army issue shoes, belts and other leather were all brown. ”But an honor guard wore black leather. We had to dye it ourselves.”
They marched their 21 paces back and forth in front of the tomb regardless of weather, one pace for each shot of a 21-gun salute. ”When it's 95 degrees in Washington, it's over 100” at the monument, he explained, because the area is surrounded with granite. And when it rained, ”the water just hit you in the face and dripped down your collar,” he said.
”They used to say we were the most photographed soldiers in the world,” he said. He described busloads of tourists in front of the monument he guarded, shooting away with cameras. ”Some days you couldn't see any grass,” he recalled, estimating crowds of thousands of people. He said the Tomb of the Unknowns was the most visited site in Arlington, before President John F. Kennedy was buried there in 1963.
After leaving the Army, Temerario returned to Lorain, where he worked at a jewelry store. After marrying Alice Meyers, his Lorain High classmate, in 1958, he and his wife moved to Washington, D.C., where Temerario began a career in law enforcement. ”I started with the regular Washington Police and transferred to the White House force.” In that capacity he served presidents from Kennedy to Gerald Ford before retiring in 1975. The Temerarios have two daughters, Gayle Loper and Nicole Rivera, in addition to their son David.
Temerario is very clear about the importance of the honor guard. ”Someone has to show the dignity of these soldiers who died,” he said. ”We don't know who they are. Someone has to watch over them,” he explained, before trailing off, too choked up to speak. ”Without these guys, we wouldn't have what we have today,” he said.
”I'm one of the lucky ones,” he said. ”I didn't have to go” to war. ”My brother Thomas did two tours in Vietnam. Until you have someone go into combat, you don't realize what you can lose.”
The memories made Temerario wipe away a tear. ”Arlington had so much green space,” he recalled, of his time as an honor guard. ”But now it's filling up.
Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard