2021 marks centennial of Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

To the editor:

This week our nation will mark the centennial of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, approved by Congress on March 4, 1921.

Originally conceived in memory of the war dead, especially the unidentified Allied soldiers of World War I, for a century the Tomb of the Unknowns has held the remains of one such American soldier previously buried in France.

Early on the morning of October 24, 1921, Sgt. Edward F. Younger of Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 50th Infantry, American Forces in Germany – highly decorated with the Distinguished Service Cross – chose one of four American caskets at the direction of Maj. Robert P. Harbold of the Quartermaster Corps. After Sgt. Younger placed a spray of white roses on the third casket from the left, the Unknown traveled by caisson and rail from Chalons-sur-Marne to the port town of La Havre, France. The USS Olympia then carried the Unknown to Washington, D. C., arriving at the Washington Naval Yard on Nov. 9, 1921 with the spray of roses still resting on the casket.

The Unknown then was transported by caisson to the U. S. Capitol Rotunda to lie in state until Armistice Day. Nearly 90,000 people paid their respects during the public visiting period on Nov. 10.

On November 11, 1921, the Unknown processed by horse-drawn caisson through the nation’s capital and across the Potomac River to Arlington National Cemetery for interment in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The original Tomb of the Unknown Soldier consisted of a simple marble slab. In 1931, a white marble sarcophagus was placed over the Unknown Soldier’s grave which stands today as the iconic memorial.

Sculpted into its east panel are three Greek figures of “Peace,” “Victory,” and Valor.” The six wreaths sculpted on two sides represent the six major World War I campaigns. The words “Here Rests in Honored Glory an American Soldier Known But to God” are inscribed on the back of the tomb.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier continues to serve as a focal point of mourning and a site for reflection of the sacrifices made by our armed forces in defense of liberty.

—Angela K. McDonald

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