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|Tomb of the Unknowns
On Memorial Day 1921, four unknowns were exhumed from four World War I American cemeteries in France. U.S. Army Sgt. Edward F. Younger, who was wounded in combat during that war and had been highly decorated for valor, selected the Unknown Soldier of World War I from four identical caskets at the city hall in Chalons-sur-Marne, France, on October 24. The chosen unknown soldier was transported to the United States aboard the USS Olympia, while 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, November 11, when President Warren G. Harding officiated at the interment ceremonies.
On August 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. 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. 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, 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 World War I comrade.
Left: The coffin of one of the
Unknowns of World War II being transferred at sea from
the USS Boston to the USS Canberra.
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, California. The remains were carried to Travis Air Force Base, California, and arrived at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, on May 25. President Ronald Reagan presided over the funeral, and presented the Medal of Honor to the Vietnam Unknown, on May 28.
The Tomb sarcophagus is above the grave of the Unknown Soldier of World War I. Sculpted into the east panel, which faces Washington, D.C., are three Greek figures representing Peace, Victory, and Valor. The six wreaths, three sculpted on each side, represent the six major campaigns of World War I. Inscribed on the back of the Tomb are the words Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God. West of the World War I Unknown are the crypts of the unknowns from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.
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This page was last updated on June 21, 2017.