The M17 Pistols Carried by the Sentinels of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The M17 Pistols Carried by the Sentinels of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Photos by Department of Defense and SIG SAUER

After visiting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and witnessing the changing of the guard, Beretta patriarch, Giuseppe Beretta, said, “We have to do something better for these men.” Consequently, presentation-­­grade M9s were built and carried by Tomb Guard sentinels beginning February 17, 1988, until October 11, 2018, for a total of 11,194 days. The Beretta M9 served well alongside American servicemen and provided a great legacy, indeed. The time has come for another change.

October 11th was a day that the men and women of SIG Sauer won’t soon forget. Four ceremonial M17s were presented to the sentinels of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and replaced the M9s in their holsters. Each is a work of art that was specially created by SIG Sauer for this duty.

The Old Guard 


Serving since 1784, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year — no matter the weather. Sentinels are all volunteers and considered to be the best of The Old Guard, the elite 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, headquartered at Fort Myer, Virginia, next to Arlington National Cemetery. The Old Guard is the oldest active U.S. infantry unit.


Tomb-of-the-Unknown-Soldier-1
Honored to represent SIG Sauer at the Changing of the Guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier were four military veteran employees: Jason St. John, Robby Johnson, Steve Rose and Ron Cohen, CEO.

Ron Cohen, CEO of SIG Sauer and a former artillery officer with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and Steve Rose, a former U.S. Navy SEAL and military salesman for SIG Sauer, had the honor of laying a wreath at the tomb. It was Cohen’s first visit to Arlington National Cemetery, which left a sullen mark on the tough soldier’s heart. The ceremony is an event that touches a lot of visitors; you can feel the power of this sacred place.

The sentinels to Cohen’s front were walking their 21 steps with M17s on their hip. A momentous day for any company whose leadership and employees know men and women who have fallen on the field of battle in service of their country. The pistols carried by the Tomb Guards are laden with significant meaning, and special processes were developed to make each of the sidearms.

The Four Pistols 

There are four pistols issued to the Tomb Guards. Named “Silence” and “Respect,” two are highly polished for daylight hours while “Dignity” and “Perseverance” are matte-­black pistols for night duty and bouts of inclement weather.


Tim Butler of SIG Sauer, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, was tasked with leading the design team and overseeing the delivery of these ceremonial service pistols. Each pistol’s frame was machined from aluminum and deeply engraved with their respective names on the underside of each dustcover.

The two M17 pistols destined to be carried during the day were polished to a brilliant reflection using a multi-­step process that included three different materials being deposited on the aluminum frame as well as one precious metal. This process was completed with the application of Diamond-­Like Carbon (DLC), a special treatment that protects the pistols’ polished appearance. I’ve seen them, and they are black as night.

Interestingly, the night-­sight pockets on these M17s feature glass vials made with marble dust from the Tomb. The dust was recovered when the Tomb received the inscription “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen, 1958-1975.” The inscription was added to the face of the crypt after Lieutenant Michael J. “Blaze” Blassie’s remains were identified and removed from the Tomb of the Unknown in 1998. The marble dust was introduced to glass by heating it to 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit and then formed for inserts into these pistols’ sights.


Tomb-of-the-Unknown-Soldier-2
Greek figures Peace, Victory and Valor are on each M17’s sight plate.

Alongside of the marble sight inserts is a three-­dimensional engraving of three Greek figures: Peace, Victory and Valor. This was made possible with the help of the U.S. Parks Service who had digitized and created the image from the Tomb’s carving. The image was then laser engraved on the sight plate for each M17.

The three figures on the front of the Tomb represent Peace holding a dove, Victory holding a palm branch and Valor holding a sword. Victory stands between Peace and Valor to reward devotion and sacrifice that went with courage to make the Cause of Righteousness triumphant.

The frames of the pistols are also one of a kind. Dignity and Perseverance, the night and inclement-­weather pistols, were finished matte black and have black grips. The day pistols wear grip inserts made of wood from the USS Olympia and finished with the Tomb Badge applied to the right-­side grip.

Tomb-of-the-Unknown-Soldier-3
The wood used for the grip panels was sourced from the deck of the USS Olympia. The Tomb Badge is the medallion.

The Tomb Badge is earned by sentinels since first being issued in 1958. It is one of only two badges that can be revoked if you dishonor the Tomb anytime in your life. Since its inception, only a few over 360 badges have been awarded.

The Wood Grips 

The wood for the day pistols’ grip inserts was carved from the deck of the USS Olympia. The USS Olympia’s tie to the Tomb of the Unknown was that its final mission returned the remains of an unknown World War I soldier home to the United States.

On Memorial Day, 1921, four unknowns were exhumed from four World War I American cemeteries in France. U.S. Army Sergeant Edward F. Younger, who was wounded in combat, decorated for valor and received the Distinguished Service Medal in the Great War, had the honor of selecting the Unknown Soldier of World War I from four identical caskets at the city hall in Châlons-­sur-­Marne, France, on October 24, 1921.

Sgt. Younger selected the unknown by placing a spray of white roses on one of the caskets. He chose the third casket from the left. That unknown soldier was then loaded and transported to the U.S. aboard the USS Olympia.

To this day, the USS Olympia is the oldest steel-­hulled American warship still afloat. Worth noting, this ship was Commander George Dewey’s flagship during the Battle of Manila Bay on May 1, 1898. It now resides at Philadelphia’s Independence Seaport Museum.

The power that these historical elements add to the M17 is chilling. As I write this, I have to reflect on what soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen have sacrificed to keep America free. Such devotion is awe inspiring.

The magazines for the Tomb Guard M17s carry 21 rounds of 9mm and feature aluminum base plates engraved with Peace, Victory and Valor on the sides. The bottom of the magazine has a space for the badge number of the NCO on duty who is in charge of the guard. Yes, the gun carried on duty is loaded.

Tomb-of-the-Unknown-Soldier-5

Not a detail was missed. In fact, even the serial numbers of each pistol end in “21”. The full series of serial numbers are “LS02JUL37A21” for Silence, “LS02JUL37B21” for Respect, “LS02JUL37C21” for Dignity and “LS02JUL37D21” for Perseverance. The “LS” prefix represents line six of the Sentinel’s Creed, “My standard will remain perfection.” “02JUL37” signifies the first 24-­hour guard posted at the Tomb of the Unknown on July 2, 1937, and “21” represents the 21 steps it takes to walk by the Tomb.

Tomb-of-the-Unknown-Soldier-4
As symbolic as the Roman numeral XXI at the rear of the slide, so is the chassis serial numbers that appears through a window on the right side of each M17 frame.

The number “21” is significant to the Tomb Guard, as it alludes to the 21-­gun salute, the highest national honor. Look closely and you’ll see that the slides are engraved with the Roman numerals “XXI” to the same proportional depth that marble was cut when engraved on the Tomb. Unlike movements in our military ranks, the sentinels do not execute an about face when they reach 21 steps during their march. They stop, turn and face the Tomb for 21 seconds. Then they turn to face the opposite direction. However, before they begin marching again, they count 21 seconds before stepping off. This is repeated until the sentinels are changed. Duration of a sentinel’s shift can be as short as 30 minutes or as long as 2 hours.

Tomb-of-the-Unknown-Soldier-6

The Cost of Honor 

I tried to get an estimate on what these pistols cost SIG Sauer to produce, which was met with a simple reply: “The cost of honoring these soldiers and the dedication of the Tomb Guards isn’t something we can put a price on. It is an honor to be asked to help with such an important project. The reaction of current and past badge holders makes cost insignificant.”

The Tomb rests on hallowed ground. If you haven’t made a trip to Arlington National Cemetery to visit the graves of the fallen and witness the solemn changing-­of-­ the-­ guard ceremony, it should move to the top of your list. Words can’t explain the power of this experience. I have been there with soldiers and citizens and witnessed the Tomb’s effect.

Tomb-of-the-Unknown-Soldier-7

We are blessed as a country to have such a memorial as the Tomb of the Unknown and to have guards who walk the line every minute of every day. It’s a fine tribute to the men and women that keep our liberties secure.

When you visit, you will be armed with knowledge of the significance of each pistol the Tomb Guards carry. Please, remember those who lost not only their lives, but their identity in the service of our great nation. 

SIG Sauer M17 Tomb Guard
Type: Striker fired, recoil operated, semiautomatic
Cartridge: 9mm
Capacity: 21+1 rds.
Barrel: 4.7 in., stainless steel
Overall Length: 8 in.
Weight: 2 lbs.
Width: 1.4 in.
Grips: Polymer or walnut
Length of Pull: 2.71 in.
Finish: DLC; matte or polished
Trigger: 6 lbs.
Sights: SIGLite tritium; removable rear plate
Safety: Lever, ambidextrous; striker interrupter
MSRP: Unavailable
Manufacturer: SIG Sauer, 603-610-3000,
sigsauer.com


GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Shooting 600 Yards with .300 Blackout

Shooting 600 Yards with .300 Blackout

The .300 Blackout cartridge was developed to provide greater effectiveness than a 9mm at short and medium ranges when fired from a short-barreled suppressed firearm. Just because the cartridge wasn't designed to go long doesn't mean Rifles & Optics Editor Tom Beckstrand won't take it there, using a large-format pistol, no less. Armed with SIG Sauer's 9-inch-barreled MCX Virtus Pistol loaded with Black Hills' 125-grain TMK ammunition, Beckstrand attempts to ring steel at 600 yards with help from Hornady's 4DOF ballistic calculator in this segment of “Long Range Tech.”

Guns & Ammo TV: Irons vs. Optics

Guns & Ammo TV: Irons vs. Optics

How much of an edge do optics give shooters? In this segment of Pros vs. Joes, Guns & Ammo TV puts Coordinating Producer Jeff Murray against Professional Shooter Chris Cerino.

All About .300 Blackout

All About .300 Blackout

The .300 Blackout is here to stay, and we take some time to look at new technology surrounding this cartridge. Next, we pit subsonic rivals against each other before stretching the legs of this CQB round out to 600 yards from a short 9-inch barrel.

Umarex Air Ruger 10/22 Rifle Review

Umarex Air Ruger 10/22 Rifle Review

In this segment of "Guns & Ammo TV," Gun Tech Editor Richard Nance and Pro-Shooter Jim Tarr head to the range to wring out the Umarex Air Ruger 10/22.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

The Taurus TX22 rimfire shoots like no other. Reviews

Taurus TX22 Rimfire Review

Eric Poole - May 23, 2019

The Taurus TX22 rimfire shoots like no other.

A guide on how to pair .223 and 5.56 NATO rifle barrel twist rates with bullet weights. Conventional wisdom says slower twist rates wouldn't properly-stabilize a heavy bullet. On the other hand, faster rates could over-stabilize lighter bullets. This is correct in theory, however, modern ballisticians have all but debunked the over-stabilization theory. All things being equal, it is better to have too much twist than not enough. How-To

Pairing Barrel Twist Rates with Bullets for .223 and 5.56 NATO

Keith Wood - November 17, 2018

A guide on how to pair .223 and 5.56 NATO rifle barrel twist rates with bullet weights....

The story of a confederate sniper’s revenge and an exclusive look at his rifle. Historical

The Story of Civil War Sniper Jack Hinson and His Rifle

Kyle Lamb - January 12, 2018

The story of a confederate sniper’s revenge and an exclusive look at his rifle.

The Browning X-Bolt Hell's Canyon Speed Long Range McMillan is arguably the best production-grade precision hunting rifle available. Rifles

Review: Browning X-Bolt Hell's Canyon Speed Long Range McMillan

Joseph von Benedikt - March 25, 2019

The Browning X-Bolt Hell's Canyon Speed Long Range McMillan is arguably the best...

See More Trending Articles

More Handguns

The Nighthawk Custom Agent 2 Commander is an abbreviated version of the Agent 2, built on a forged slide and frame. The crowned muzzle is cut flush with the bushing, which was given flats around the edges. Few curves were left untouched by flats; even the bottom of the triggerguard has corners leading to the high-grip undercut. The scale motif adds striking functionality. Reviews

Nighthawk Custom Agent 2 Commander Review

Eric R. Poole - July 28, 2020

The Nighthawk Custom Agent 2 Commander is an abbreviated version of the Agent 2, built on a...

If you're in need of a pistol to bet your life on, look no further than the pistol that won over the U.S. Army, the SIG Sauer P320 - M17. Reviews

Review: SIG Sauer P320 - M17

Richard Nance - August 14, 2020

If you're in need of a pistol to bet your life on, look no further than the pistol that won...

The surplus gun scene is constantly changing. I procrastinated and missed the opportunity to purchase a police trade-in P226 and P229 in .40 S&W for $379.95 because I thought they might come available in 9mm. Friends, the lesson I learned is that if you think you might want it, don't wait too long.  Handguns

Surplus Guns

Keith Wood - September 17, 2020

The surplus gun scene is constantly changing. I procrastinated and missed the opportunity to...

Competition shooter and author James Tarr joins Guns & Ammo Editor Eric Poole for some fun and to discuss Smith & Wesson's K-Frame Classics. Handguns

Guns & Ammo TV: Smith & Wesson Performance Center Classics

Guns & Ammo Staff - July 17, 2020

Competition shooter and author James Tarr joins Guns & Ammo Editor Eric Poole for some fun and...

See More Handguns

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get Digital Access.

All Guns and Ammo subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now