At the time, it was just a job.
It was later that Albrecht came to appreciate the gravity of that job: carrying the casket of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
“Obviously, you think Eisenhower was a great man because of World War II and all he did,” Albrecht says. “But when you start seeing thousands and thousands of people standing up in the rain, to climb up all those stairs and go around and pay homage, you think, ‘Wow.'”
Before he carried the 34th president to his final rest, Bob Albrecht was a young man from North Dakota.
“I grew up between Linton and Hazelton,” he says, “on a farm a mile east and north of Temvik.”
He enlisted in the Marines at age 21; spent 13 months in Vietnam. In the summer of 1968, he was given the choice of going back overseas or moving to Washington D.C. to serve at the Marine Barracks — the oldest active post in the Marine Corps, and home to the more ceremonial duties of the Marines: the Drum and Bugle Corps, the Silent Drill Platoon and an elite team known as the Body Bearers.
“It’s what they call a pallbearer,” Albrecht explains. “We carried four, five, sometimes six caskets a day in Arlington, Virginia — from those that died coming back, to congressmen.”
Being a Marine Body Bearer meant Bob had to be not just physically tough…
“We lifted weights a lot. And I kept busting out of my blouses in the area here when you do like this.”
…But mentally tough, too.
“Always keep in mind that you have to have a solemn face,” he says. “So we’d do all kinds of crazy things to try to make you smile. Eyes forward. Your eyes better not move!”
Then, in January of 1969, Eisenhower fell ill.
“So we had to practice,” he says.
Ike passed away on March 28, 1969. Two days later, Bob Albrecht and seven others carried him to the Capitol Rotunda to lie in state.
“The Coast Guard gentleman in front of me was about six-foot-four,” he recalls. “All I saw was the back side of him the whole time!”
Bob performed his duty without missing a step or cracking a smile. A few nights later, as he escorted Eisenhower’s body by train to its final resting place in Kansas, he got a sense for the scope of it all.
“I lifted the shade in the car, and I looked out, and all I saw were people holding lanterns,” he says. “In the middle of nowhere at 1:30 in the morning!”
A gesture of respect — just like the solemn duty carried out by Corporal Bob Albrecht and the Marine Body Bearers.