Who’s buried inside the Tomb of The Unknown Soldier, and what is the story behind this timeless monument?
In this video, we’re exploring the history behind one of America’s most closely guarded tombs. As well as the few pieces of information we actually know about the soldiers buried there.
What is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier?
Located in Arlington National Cemetery, The Tomb of The Unknown Soldier built to honor all unidentified soldiers who sacrificed their lives to protect U.S. soil. The historical monument is located on top of a hill overlooking Washington D.C.. And with the graves built in the plaza of the Memorial Amphitheater. There are four graves located in the Tomb, but only 3 of them have bodies inside. The fourth one had its soldier removed from the tomb in 1998, which we will get into later in the video.
The Tomb also has a white sarcophagus showcasing 3 Greek sculptures representing Valour, Peace, and Victory. In addition to the sarcophagus, the Tomb also has six wreaths, with three being sculpted on each side. Each wreath signifies one of the six major campaigns of World War I. On the back of the Tomb is an inscription that reads: Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God. Join Facts Verse to learn more the details about What We Actually Know About the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Unknown Tombs Around the World
The idea of a tomb to honor the lives lost by unidentified soldiers was first created by the British in 1916. And led to the establishment of the United Kingdom’s Tomb of the Unknown Warrior. Following this project, other countries developed memorials of their own. Soon, other wartime allies, including France, Italy, and the U.S.. All had their own tombs as a tribute to the brave men and women who died in battle without any desire for fame or any hope of acknowledgment.
The First Unknown Soldier
According to Military Historian Patrick K. O’Donnell, the War Department ordered the selection of an unknown soldier on September 29, 1921. They decided that the soldier going to selected from those buried in France. The U.S. Quartermaster Corps carried out the selection process. And just three short weeks later, four soldiers, each from one of the 4 American cemeteries in France, exhumed. They decided that these soldiers must fulfill three strict criteria to selected as randomly as possible:
1- The person had been a member of the American Expeditionary Forces
2- He had died of wounds in combat
and 3. Most importantly, there were no clues to his identity whatsoever.
Once the soldiers selected and exhumed, they placed in identical caskets. All four coffins arrived by truck at the city hall of Chalons-sur-Marne on October 23, 1921. Here army Sgt. Edward F. Younger tasked with selecting one of these caskets to the designated unknown soldier.
Younger himself had a soldier in the war and awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for valor. He chose the soldier by placing white roses on the casket, after which the U.S. and French army officials paid their respects to the unknown soldier. The unknown World War 1 soldier then sent to the U.S. aboard the USS Olympia. On November 9, 1921, the body of the unknown soldier arrived at the Washington Navy Yard. Where it received by all the service chiefs, the secretary of war, and General of the Armies John J. Pershing.
On November 11, 1921, eight highly decorated WWI veterans. It is handpicked by Pershing himself, escorted the unknown soldier to Arlington National Cemetery, where his final resting place now lies. This unknown soldier, representing all the unknown soldiers from world war 1. The first of what would later four unknown soldiers buried at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
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The WW2 Unknown Soldier
On August 3, 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill to select and pay tribute to the Unknowns of World War II and the Korean War. The selection procedure for these ceremonies pretty much the same as what had done for the original Unknown soldier, except the number of soldiers chosen for selection varied slightly.
To select the unknown World War 2 soldier, two soldiers exhumed, one from the Pacific Theater and the other from the European Theater. These bodies then shipped aboard the USS Canberra and placed alongside the unknown Korean soldier, as both unknown soldiers to be buried together.
Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class William R. Charette, the U.S. Navy’s only active-duty Medal of Honor recipient at the time, randomly picked the unknown World War 2 soldier sent to Washington. The unchosen World War 2 soldier given a solemn burial at sea.
The Korean War Unknown Soldier
On the other hand, the Korean war Unknown soldier chosen out of 4 soldiers exhumed from the National Cemetery in Hawaii. Army Master Sgt. Ned Lyle the one tasked with choosing the Korean soldier. After his random selection, the unknown soldier sent onward, while the other three reinterred.
Both the Korean war and World War 2 soldier arrived in Washington DC on May 28, 1958. And after a two-day wait to get everything in order, laid to rest on the Morning of May 30. Both the soldiers awarded medals of honor for their service to their country.
The 4th Unknown Soldier
The case of the last unknown soldier is the most interesting, however.
The last unknown soldier selected by U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Allan Jay Kellogg, Jr., during a ceremony at Pearl Harbor. The ceremony was exactly the same as the other three soldiers except for one key factor.
After being laid to rest as the fourth unknown soldier on May 17, 1984, the body removed from the tomb on May 14, 1998. Why?
Well, technology had progressed quite a bit during this time, and DNA testing was the norm. So after his body exhumed, Mitochondrial DNA Testing conducted. And the real identity of the then-unknown soldier came to light. The unknown soldier Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie, who had shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. After his identity revealed, his body handed over to his family, who moved it to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis instead of replacing the body into the tomb of the unknown soldier. The crypt has now covered by a slab cover bearing the inscription, “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen, 1958-1975.”
Who Guards the Unknown Soldiers?
Let’s talk about security. The Tomb is guarded 24/7, 365 days a year, and being a guard at this place is no small feat. The selection process for guarding the Tomb is so thorough that it’s the rarest position in teh army and the second rarest position in the entire military.
Guards have to be on duty 24 hours at a time, and when they’re not walking around the memorial, they’re preparing in the underground barracks. Training and preparing their uniforms can take guards up to eight hours at a time. And is necessary since even the slightest amount of slacking can get you fired from the prestigious rank. Only a special group of people, volunteers from the 3rd regiment, called the Old Guard, are given the job.
The honor of being a guard at the Tomb of The Unknown Soldier also comes with added rules that no other part of the army has to follow. For example, the guards at the Tomb aren’t allowed to wear insignia, so they don’t accidentally outrank the soldiers buried there. The way the guards change their duties is also a bit different from most other places. The guards are changed every hour from October 1 to March 31 and every half hour from April 1 to September 30. During the guard changing ceremony, everything is done in increments of 21. The Tomb guards walk 21 steps in each direction to signify the 21 gun salute – the highest honor bestowed in the military.
If you were thinking of visiting the Tomb, you’re in luck because, for the first time in 100 years, the Tomb is now going to be open to the public. This is in honor of the 100th anniversary of the monument. Keep in mind that if you’re a visitor, you must stand still and remain silent during the guard changing ceremony. After all, it is a grave, and it’s important to respect the lives of the soldiers buried there.
So what do you think? Do you think the 4th unknown soldier should have placed back in the tomb after the identification. Or should they have found another soldier to replace him? Let us know in the comments! And if you enjoyed this video, be sure to like the video, subscribe to the channel, and turn on the notification bell, so you never miss a single video!