US Army history comes to life at Twilight Tattoo

By EMMA SWISLOW | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 21, 2019

On many Wednesday and Thursday nights through July, the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment — "The Old Guard" — hosts the Twilight Tattoo, a tradition that the Military District of Washington began in 1961. 

During these ceremonial performances, soldiers reenact scenes from major American conflicts from the Revolutionary War to today.

On June 19 at Joint Base Myer-Henderson in Arlington, Va., Under Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy hosted a tattoo, standing in front of the audience as a soldier sang the national anthem to begin the event.

Military pageantry was on full display at the evening performance, which was held indoors due to the threat of thunderstorms. Members of the Old Guard and the U.S. Army Band — “Pershing’s Own” — wore historically-accurate uniforms, performed traditional military songs, and acted out scenes and speeches from the various eras.

The audience, made up of mostly school groups, watched as Union soldiers gathered around a campfire during the Civil War. During a World War II segment, a soldier read a letter from Gen. Dwight Eisenhower that encouraged troops to keep their heads up. The Vietnam War portion saw soldiers crawl on their stomachs as they attempted to advance closer to the front line. Later on, the U.S. Army Drill Team performed a highly-regimented ceremonial drill.

The term “tattoo” comes from the Dutch phrase “doe den tap toe,” which translates into English as “time to turn off the taps.” When it was time for soldiers to leave the pubs and return to their barracks, a drum and bugle would play a tune to signal to the owners of the pub that they had to turn their taps off and stop serving the soldiers. This phrase can be traced back to the 17th century, according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

The next Twilight Tattoo is scheduled for June 26 at 7 p.m. The event is free and open to the public; see more information at the base's web site.


Members of the U.S. Army Drill Team perform a highly-regimented drill during the Twilight Tattoo on June 19 at Joint Base Myer-Henderson in Arlington, Virginia.

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