The Tomb of the Unknowns: 2021 is the 100th Anniversary

tomb of the unknowns

November 11, 2021 is the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. On November 11, 1921, a lone unknown soldier was laid to rest after a special ceremony, complete with six black horses pulling the caisson that brought his body to the location. This year was the first year in which the public was allowed to come close to the Tomb after bringing flowers to the site.

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Screenshot of photo by Alex Brandon

The ceremony brought members of the Crow Nation to perform and lay flowers. Tourists with bouquets of their own laid them before the tomb. It was literally the first and likely last time in 100 years that anyone was allowed to walk on the Tomb plaza with the exception of the “Old Guard” (3rd Infantry Regiment) that watches over it day and night. The event began on Tuesday and concluded on Wednesday. It’s not likely to occur again in our lifetime.

We do not anticipate holding another event in our lifetimes in which the public will be able to approach the Tomb in this manner.

Arlington National Cemetery officials

Other events planned for Veteran’s Day, Thursday Nov 11th, included the Presidential Wreath-laying ceremony, and  a joint full honors procession and joint service flyover that members of the public could watch from a special procession route.

November 11, 1921

All photos from 1921 in Public Domain

The Tomb of the Unknowns was created to honor the remains of those who were not identified in our nation’s wars. The first soldier was from WWI, one from WW2, and one from the Korean War. With the advent of DNA testing, it is hoped that it will not be necessary to inter any more unidentified heroes.

Eight men were chosen to carry the body of the first Unknown to his final resting place: Sergeant Samuel Woodfill of the Infantry, Sergeant Harry Taylor of the Cavalry, Sergeant Thomas D. Saunders of the Combat Engineers, Sergeant Louis Razga of the Coast Artillery Corps, Staff Sergeant James W. Dell of the Field Artillery, Chief Torpedoman James Delaney of the US Navy, Chief Water Tender Charles Leo O’Connor of the US Navy and Sergeant Major Ernest A. Janson of the Marine Corps. All were decorated heroes in their own right.

The Tomb contains the remains of an unidentified soldier who died in World War I. He was laid to rest with a white marble sarcophagus emblazoned with three Greek figures representing Peace, Victory and Valor. On the rear of the monument, the following is inscribed:

“Here Rests in Honored Glory An American Soldier Known But To God.” Situated on high ground at almost the perfect geographic center of the cemetery, the Tomb “exemplifies valor and honor by remembering those who died committing brave and selfless acts with no one to bear witness to them.”

The selection process to determine whose unidentified remains would be interred in the Tomb was quite involved. It started with randomly selecting unidentified remains from four French cemeteries. Removed, they were placed in front of Sgt. Edward F. Younger, who was also randomly selected for this honor, to choose one set of remains by placing a spray of white roses atop the casket. Those remains were then eventually transported to the USS Olympia, which sailed up the Potomac River, receiving and returning salutes from military posts along the way, docking at the Washington Navy Yard. This Unknown was memorialized for eternity in the first Tomb of the Unknown Soldier established Nov. 11, 1921 – his coffin resting upon some of the French soil in which he was first buried.

The later process of selecting a World War II Unknown was, ironically, interrupted by another conflict – the Korean War. As a result representative remains from both these conflicts, again following a detailed selection process, were honored by burials at the same time in Arlington on May 30, 1958.

LT Col. James Zumwalt, WND/CFL

November 11, 2021 is a difficult and different period in history. But nothing can hold a candle to the circumstances of war. Honoring the Tomb of the Unknowns and those who are represented there is important: we must never forget ALL of those who have died in service to our country. We must also never forget those who have served and are serving now. Our brothers, fathers, mothers, and sisters, cousins, uncles, aunts, and grandparents who have faced an enemy most of us can never comprehend deserve our thanks and honor.


Featured photo: screenshot via Twitter

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