Most every American alive at the time remembers where he or she was when word of John F. Kennedy’s assassination came. Members of the Third Infantry Regiment, the U.S. Army’s official ceremonial unit, were no exception.

As their fellow citizens reeled in horror and sorrow, however, the dedicated soldiers of the Third Infantry, the “Old Guard,” realized their professionalism and sense of duty would be called upon in this, their finest hour. Their normal duties ranged from burying soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery to welcoming visiting heads of state at the White House. The Kennedy state funeral imposed special demands. Whatever the task, it was performed with the precision and dignity these solemn events deserved. The shock they felt when they learned of the assassination had to give way to duty.

Their Finest Hour was written by more than twenty members of The Old Guard—privates, sergeants, lieutenants, and captains among them—who were there for Kennedy’s funeral.

They share their memories of going to Andrews Air Force Base to receive the body of the president, standing watch over the casket at the White House, transferring the casket to the Capitol to lie in state in the Rotunda, and then proceeding to St. Matthew’s Cathedral for the funeral Mass and to Arlington National Cemetery over four intense and sorrowful days.

The Old Guard’s tasks ranged from carrying the casket, managing spirited horses, and even holding the hand of an active John F. Kennedy, Jr., “John-John,” who had just turned three. Every step of the way required hours and hours of intense training and practice and making plans and changing plans at the drop of a hat.

These soldiers’ sense of duty was on display to a grateful nation, an audience of millions watching on television, which drew solace from their professionalism and humanity.

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