When 25-year-old John Marro of Marlboro decided to pursue a Master’s in Education in order to become a high school English teacher, he never imagined that he would end up defending one of the most sacred, if not the most sacred libraries in the nation – the Library of Congress, inside the Thomas Jefferson Building – from domestic terrorists.
On January 6, 2021, like most of America and people around the world, Marro saw a mob of insurrectionists breach the US Capitol in Washington, DC, smashing windows of the hallowed building, trampling over security personnel, killing one police officer and vandalizing historic monuments while Congress was in session. Marro said he felt sick. “Not only was it sickening to watch what was happening, but I had a gut reaction that said we’d be going. I knew that call was coming.”
Several years earlier, Marro had decided to enlist in the New York Army National Guard, where he went through boot camp for eight weeks, followed by a six-month training to become a military police officer. “I was just at the point where I wanted to propose to my girlfriend – who is now my wife – and I realized that I needed to set a path for myself, to start and build a future.” He was assigned to his unit in February of 2017; he proposed; and currently he’s a student at SUNY New Paltz, working on getting his teaching degree.
The mob overtook the Capitol at approximately 2 p.m., and by 6 p.m. Marro’s phone was ringing. “If you remember, they didn’t activate the National Guard right away. They waited. So, when the call came in, I was told to pack enough stuff for two weeks and get myself to Camp Smith in Cortland Manor, where we were being deployed from to Virginia.”
The National Guard troops had no idea what to expect. Marro didn’t know if he’d be walking into active combat, if he’d be stationed outside the Capitol, inside, or somewhere else in DC. “Once we were deployed, I was busy packing and making arrangements to get to our unit, so I wasn’t keeping a close eye on what was transpiring,” he said. “We didn’t know what we were walking into.”
Although, upon arrival, he found the Capitol Building to be majestic and serene on one hand, with no visitors, no government officials or staff members bustling about, Marro said that it had an eerie feel to it. “There was barbed wire all around the Capitol. It was so heavily protected. I learned that not since the Civil War had the Capitol been used as a military fortress. That just goes to show you how far off the rails this had gone. DC was completely shut down.”
One of Marro’s photos shows a view of the Exhibition Hall inside the building that was vacant and still. “Usually this is like the Grand Central Station of the Capitol Building, filled with tourists; but it was completely empty.”
There were approximately 26,000 National Guard officers on the ground to guard the Capitol and the peaceful transfer of power during the inauguration of president Joseph Biden. “We were broken up into different teams, and I was on the Quick Reaction Force Team, which meant that if there was any type of attack or violence on the Capitol or during the inauguration, I was armed and ready to react right away.”
He didn’t pack his textbooks or computer because he had no idea, nor did most of the troops, where they’d be stationed or sleeping. “I made sure I had a sleeping bag and tent and warm clothes, because we had no clue if we were going to be sleeping outside in a football field somewhere.”
Ironically, Marro was one of approximately 5,000 guardsmen who ended up being stationed inside the Jefferson Library. “It was so surreal,” he said. “I would wake up and be starring at most beautiful art and quotations of literary and philosophical figures like Dante, and then I’d remember why I was there. Of all the places in the country, I was being charged with guarding and defending the National Library of Congress. I kept thinking that, as a future English teacher, I would be able to tell my students this story, and my kids and grandkids.”
While we all know how it went down, Marro and company, who were charged with ensuring that no one got hurt and that there was not another act of insurrection or domestic terrorism as the new president was being ushered into the White House, did not know how it was going to unfold, and had to be ready every moment to act. “We were watching the inauguration in the Coolidge Auditorium on a projector. That was nervewracking, because we knew, if something was going to happen, this was very likely when it would occur. But thankfully, it did not.”
He said that he didn’t really breathe that final sigh of relief until he looked out the windows at the inauguration festivities and saw “Katie Perry singing ‘Firework,’ and of course the fireworks show that went along with the song. That’s when I said to myself, ‘We made it.’”
It has been an eventful year for Marro, with his studies ramping up and his unit being activated in March of 2020 to build testing sites in New Rochelle, where the coronavirus had hit hard and fast in the spring.
“It’s an honor to serve my country, and honestly I think it was such a seminal moment to know that I had helped ensure the peaceful transfer of power. That feeling will stay with me for a long time.”
Hudson Valley One thanks Marro for his service.