The Beretta M9s that stood guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns for more than 11,000 days were relieved of their duties on Oct. 11 during a special ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. SIG Sauer officially presented a set of finely crafted M17 Tomb of the Unknown Pistols to the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment—“The Old Guard.” The fit, finish and honor built into their design makes them a befitting heir at one of our nation’s most-solemn sites.
“Presenting these special M17 pistols to the Tomb Sentinels of The Old Guard was an incredible honor for me and our company, and an indelible moment in my life,” said Ron Cohen, president and CEO of SIG Sauer. “As a soldier, having fought and lost friends, I felt connected to the pistols and their purpose. Touching them seemed almost disrespectful.”
The sidearms were created using the same specifications as the standard-issue M17, but feature a non-railed, aluminum grip module, stainless steel slide, wooden grip inserts, removable rear plate and black controls. A high polish helps them survive the inclement weather Tomb sentinels often endure.
“It’s difficult for me to put into words what it meant to be a part of the production of these pistols,” said SIG Sauer Pistol Product Manager Tim Butler. “As an American, and a former Marine, I know the purpose for which these M17 pistols will be placed into service is a calling much greater and more meaningful than my contribution to their production.”
The four pistols bear the names of Silence, Respect, Dignity and Perseverance on their dustcover—the first two reflecting what is demanded of visitors to the site, with the latter pair representing “The Sentinel’s Creed.” There are 21 cocking serrations on each slide, signifying the 21-gun salute and the number of steps guards are required to take with each pass of the tomb.
The custom wooden grips were crafted from material from the USS Olympia, which brought the original “Unknown” World War I Soldier back to the United States in 1921. The crest of the 3rd Guard, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier identification badge is inset.
“The production and manufacturing of the M17 Tomb of the Unknown Ceremonial Pistols project was extremely complex as many of the manufacturing processes we used were unproven. For instance, the 3D laser engraving of Peace, Victory and Valor on the slide is not something we had experimented with prior to this,” Butler said. “Additionally, the wooden inserts on the pistol grips, that compliments the M14 rifles and comes from the USS Olympia, have no pins or screws for retention, but are held into the grips using rare earth magnets and are removable.”
A glass insert with dust from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier fills the sights, and the sight plate is engraved with an impression of the Greek figures found on the east side of the landmark, Peace, Victory and Valor. The 21-round magazines are engraved with the same names, as well as the badge number of each Tomb sentinel.