Jessica Lilly Published

Princeton Native to Serve in the Army's Oldest Active Duty Regiment


When 19-year-old Nathan Thomas Cooper first took the infantry man’s creed, it wasn’t clear where the United States Army would take him.

Friday marks the 239th anniversary of America’s Independence. A few years later, in 1789, Congress officially created the Department that helps protect and keep the American freedoms…the United State Military.

But the oldest active duty regiment can be traced back to 1784 … The Old Guard. A soldier from Princeton was recently chosen to help carry on the traditions of the troop.

Private Cooper of Princeton was honored when he was selected to serve in The Old Guard straight out of basic training.

To be a member of the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment, among other things, a soldier must: 

  • Stand at least 6 feet tall
  • Weigh between 150 and 180 lbs.
  • Have a specific bone structure

Besides the physical characteristics, Cooper’s mother, Nicole Ellis, suspects that his attitude was also important.
“He’s everything to me and to his family,” Ellis said, “but to the rest of the world he’s just a nobody from just a nowhere little town and they picked him. He was chosen.”

Taps, a standard part of U.S. military funerals since 1891, gets played in Arlington on a regular basis. And again, it’s soldiers of The Old Guard who are responsible for carrying out these traditions at Fort Myer and around the Washington D.C. area. Other responsibilities of The Old Guard include guarding the tomb of the unknown soldier – an honor that Cooper hopes to earn, but he says won’t happen any time soon.

In the meantime, he’s currently in the Firing Party – a group that participates in the “21-gun salute” for honored military veterans. Cooper will be trying out for the Caisson Platoon, which includes the soldiers that ride on horses that escort the fallen soldiers to the final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery.

“I said before I didn’t want to go to war,” Cooper said, “but if necessary I will fight to my death. I am always there now and forever. I am the infantry, follow me. I’ll lead the way.”


Nicole Ellis, mother (left), Private Nathan Thomas Cooper