Once-oldest-living guard of Tomb of Unknown Soldier dies

By LEIGH ZALESKI | York (Pa.)Daily Record | Published: April 18, 2013

Growing up in a poor family, Charles Yinger learned to take care of the few things he had.

When he was 16 years old, he joined the Army because he couldn't find a job, and he wanted to provide for his family.

He was assigned to the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment at Fort Myer, Va. After he received his uniform, he kept it looking sharp -- trousers creased and shoes shined. In proper military fashion, he carried himself that same way.

In 1937, Yinger was chosen to guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.

"You had to be in tip-top shape all the time," Yinger said during a November 2011 interview.

More than 10 years ago, he became the oldest living guard of the tomb. The 93-year-old Springettsbury Township resident died Tuesday after three bouts with pneumonia this year.

In 1939, Charles Yinger was assigned to the 14th Infantry and guarded the Panama Canal. When the U.S. entered World War II in 1941, he had a choice to go to Europe or to the Pacific to fight. He chose the Pacific.

President Roosevelt called for people to volunteer for a secret mission, which eventually came to be known as Merrill's Marauders, in Burma. Yinger raised his hand.

He was among the 3,000 Americans who fought commando combat, attempting to push out a much larger force of Japanese Imperial Marines and reopen Burma Road to transport supplies to China.

After he was discharged in 1945, he met his wife, Theresa, and they had three children. He worked as a sandblaster and a painter, and as a truck driver in the winter.

Mike Yinger described his dad -- who enjoyed attending social clubs, watching horse races and eating hard-shell crabs -- as disciplined, simple and old school. Later in life, Charles Yinger enjoyed taking drives with old friends through York to reminisce of their childhood.

Mike Yinger, 64, of Conewago Township, said his father rarely talked about his time in the military. He was about 12 when he learned his dad had guarded the Tomb of the Unknowns. One of his peers had done a report on the tomb, and Mike told his dad about it.

"He didn't voluntarily come forward and talk about it," he said. "He didn't brag about anything."

He said his dad had certain memories that he tried to forget, especially during his time in Burma. Many in his unit died, either during battle or from illness.

Charles Yinger always voiced support for veterans.

Although he was proud, he was also private. He believed the military was his duty, both fighting in Burma and guarding the tomb that represents all service members who lost their lives and their identity.

He often would say his country owes him nothing.

About the tomb

The Tomb of the Unknowns, also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, stands on top of a hill at Arlington National Cemetery overlooking Washington, D.C. On March 4, 1921, Congress approved the burial of an unidentified American soldier from World War I. Unknown soldiers from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War also are represented at the tomb.

Three Greek figures signifying peace, victory and valor are sculpted into the panel facing Washington. The following words are inscribed on the back of the tomb: Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God

Tomb Guard sentinels guard the tomb 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Sentinels, all volunteers, are considered to be the best of the elite 3rd Infantry Regiment, headquartered at Fort Myer, Va.

- www.arlingtoncemetery.mil