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The Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers

ThisThe Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., is also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and has never been officially named. The Tomb of the Unknowns stands atop a hill overlooking Washington, D.C.

On March 4, 1921, Congress approved the burial of an unidentified American soldier from World War I in the plaza of the new Memorial Amphitheater.

The Tomb sarcophagus was placed above the grave of the Unknown Soldier of World War I. West of the World War I Unknown are the crypts of unknowns from World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Those three graves are marked with white marble slabs flush with the plaza.

The white marble sarcophagus has a flat-faced form and is relieved at the corners and along the sides by neo-classic pilasters, or columns, set into the surface. Sculpted into the east panel which faces Washington, D.C., are three Greek figures representing Peace, Victory, and Valor. Inscribed on the back of the Tomb are the words:

"Here rests in honored glory an American Soldier known but to God"

The Unknown of World War 1

On Memorial Day, 1921, four unknowns were exhumed from four World War I American cemeteries in France. U.S. Army Sgt. Edward F. Younger, was wounded in combat, highly decorated for valor and received the Distinguished Service Medal in "The Great War, the war to end all wars." Sgt. Younger selected the Unknown Soldier of World War I from four identical caskets at the city hall in Chalons-sur-Marne, France, Oct. 24, 1921.

Sgt. Younger selected the unknown by placing a spray of white roses on the third casket from the left. The chosen unknown soldier was transported to the United States aboard the USS Olympia. Those remaining were interred in the Meuse Argonne Cemetery, France.

The Unknown Soldier lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda from his arrival in the United States until Armistice Day, 1921. On Nov. 11, 1921, President Warren G. Harding officiated at the interment ceremonies at the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery.

The Unknown of World War 2 and Korea

On Aug. 3, 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill to select and pay tribute to the unknowns of World War II and Korea. The selection ceremonies and the interment of these unknowns took place in 1958. The World War II Unknown was selected from remains exhumed from cemeteries in Europe, Africa, Hawaii and the Philippines.

Two unknowns from World War II, one from the European Theater and one from the Pacific Theater, were placed in identical caskets and taken aboard the USS Canberra, a guided-missile cruiser resting off the Virginia capes. Navy Hospitalman 1st Class William R. Charette, then the Navy's only active-duty Medal of Honor recipient, selected the Unknown Soldier of World War II. The remaining casket received a solemn burial at sea.

Four unknown Americans who died in the Korean War were disinterred from the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. Army Master Sgt. Ned Lyle made the final selection. Both caskets arrived in Washington May 28, 1958, where they lay in the Capitol Rotunda until May 30.

That morning, they were carried on caissons to Arlington National Cemetery. President Eisenhower awarded each the Medal of Honor, and the Unknowns were interred in the plaza beside their comrade of World War I.

The Unknown of Vietnam

The Unknown service member from the Vietnam War was designated by Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Allan Jay Kellogg Jr. during a ceremony at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, May 17, 1984.

The Vietnam Unknown was transported aboard the USS Brewton to Alameda Naval Base, Calif. The remains were sent to Travis Air Force Base, Calif., May 24. The Vietnam Unknown arrived at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., the next day.

Many Vietnam veterans and President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan visited the Vietnam Unknown in the U.S. Capitol. An Army caisson carried the Vietnam Unknown from the Capitol to the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day, May 28, 1984.

President Reagan presided over the funeral, and presented the Medal of Honor to the Vietnam Unknown. The president also acted as next of kin by accepting the interment flag at the end of the ceremony. The interment flags of all four Unknowns at the Tomb of the Unknowns are on view in the Memorial Display Room.

Unknown Soldier Facts

ThisThe marble for the Tomb of the Unknowns was furnished by the Vermont Marble Company of Danby, Vt.. The marble was quarried in Yule, Colorado and is called Yule Marble.

The Tomb consists of seven pieces of rectangular marble:

  • Four pieces in sub base; weight -- 15 tons
  • One piece in base or plinth; weight -- 16 tons
  • One piece in die; weight -- 36 tons
  • One piece in cap; weight -- 12 tons

The dimensions of the Tomb:

  • Base:
    • Width -- 8 feet
    • Length -- 14 feet, 11 inches
    • Height -- 1 foot, 10 inches
  • Die:
    • Width -- 6 feet, 4 inches
    • Length -- 12 feet, 3 1/2 inches
    • Height -- 5 feet, 5 inches
  • Cap:
    • Width -- 6 feet, 8 inches
    • Length -- 12 feet, 7 inches
    • Height -- 1 foot, 1 3/4 inches
  • Sub base:
    • Height -- 2 feet, 6 inches

Carved on the East side (the front of the Tomb, which faces Washington, D.C.) is a composite of three figures, commemorative of the spirit of the Allies of World War I. In the center of the panel stands Victory (female). On the right side, a male figure symbolizes Valor. On the left side stands Peace, with her palm branch to reward the devotion and sacrifice that went with courage to make the cause of righteousness triumphant.

The north and south sides are divided into three panels by Doric pilasters. In each panel is an inverted wreath. On the west, or rear, panel (facing the Amphitheater) is inscribed:

HERE RESTS IN HONORED GLORY AN AMERICAN SOLDIER KNOWN BUT TO GOD

The first Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was a sub base and a base or plinth. It was slightly smaller than the present base. This was torn away when the present Tomb was started Aug. 27, 1931. The Tomb was completed and the area opened to the public 9:15 a.m. April 9, 1932, without any ceremony.

  • Cost of the Tomb -- $48,000
  • Sculptor -- Thomas Hudson Jones
  • Architect -- Lorimer Rich
  • Contractors -- Hagerman & Harris, New York City
  • Inscription -- Author Unknown

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