With the seat of government in Washington and the presence of nearby Arlington National Cemetery and the Washington Navy Yard, it was clear to Navy leadership that there would always be special events, high-visibility funerals, and state funerals necessitating the participation of Sailors.
The Washington Navy Yard held the largest number of Sailors of any command within the national capital area. These men would be put into service for the various funerals and ceremonies in the area for many years.
Initially, Sailors from the Receiving Station (nicknamed “Salvo” because of the gun factory at the Yard) were used for ceremonies after 1904. These personnel participated in events for the White House and Arlington National Cemetery, among others.
While these Sailors were all expected to master infantry landing party skills, including close order drill, they were nowhere near as sharp as the dedicated ceremonial elements which the Army and Marine Corps had created.
In 1931, the Navy began a successful experiment with a designated ceremonial detail of Sailors. Two years later in 1933, the Navy Ceremonial Guard was established as a permanent unit at the receiving station, with LT L. K. Scott as its first officer-in-charge.
In 1935, the unit’s name was changed to match that of security units at other Navy bases, the Seaman Guard. In addition to its ceremonial duties, Sailors of this command performed actual guard duty at entrance gates and around the base. This secondary duty continued well into the 21st Century.
A new receiving station opened at Anacostia in 1943 (now DC’s Anacostia Park at the foot of the Frederick Douglass Bridge), and the Seaman Guard was moved there.
Just after World War II, in 1946, LT Biagio O. Furnari, a former enlisted Sailor who had served as a POW, was assigned as officer-in-charge, serving until 1948. He returned to the Guard as a lieutenant commander for his second tour as OIC in 1953. The barracks and dining facility now serving the Navy Ceremonial Guard are named Furnari Hall in his honor.
Various changes came to the guard during the 1950s. Like the other services, the Ceremonial Guard established a Drill Team at this time. Additionally, the command’s name was changed back to U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard in 1951.
With the closing of Naval Station Anacostia in 1959, the Guard was moved to the Anacostia Naval Air Station, an old seaplane base (now Joint Base Anacostia Bolling, its current home).
While many have served in the Guard and then gone on to varied careers in the Navy, several former Guardsmen are worthy of note. Delbert Black, who would go on to become the first Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) served with the Navy Ceremonial Guard early in his career, SA Edward W. Nemeth is immortalized in images of John F. Kennedy’s funeral, where he marched behind the caisson carrying the President’s personal flag. In more recent years, ET1(SS) Brian A. Moss, who had just transferred from the Guard to the Pentagon, was killed in the attack on September 11, 2001.
The Navy Ceremonial Guard has grown from a rag tag assembly of men awaiting transfer from the Naval Gun Factory to a highly polished shore command of over 200 Sailors. While the names and locations of our home have changed, the Ceremonial Guard remains focused on its founding values: to provide funeral honors to past and present Navy service members and to provide ceremonial support to the President.