Tomb of the Unknowns
The 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 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.
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 Unknown of World War I
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, highly decorated for valor and received the Distinguished
Service Medal in "The Great War, the war to end all wars," 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
one of the caskets. He chose 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 II 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 of World War I comrade.
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 Unknowns at the Tomb of the Unknowns are on view in the Memorial Display Room.
The Memorial Bridge leading from Washington, D.C., to Virginia is lined with a joint-service cordon as the
remains of the Vietnam War Unknown are taken by motor escort to Arlington National Cemetery for interment in the Tomb of the Unknowns.
(The remains of the Vietnam Unknown were exhumed May 14, 1998. Based on mitochondrial DNA testing,
DoD scientists identified the remains as those of Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie
, who was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. It has been decided that the crypt that
contained the remains of the Vietnam Unknown will remain vacant.)
Tomb Guards serve a position of great honor, and are generally recruited from Arlington’s Fort Myer.
Each new sentinel is subject to rigorous physical requirements as well as a review of Arlington National
Cemetery history and general military knowledge.
The sentinel on duty takes 21 steps, turns and faces the Tomb for 21 seconds, then retraces his steps.
The number of steps and the length of the pause are representative of the highest military tribute, the 21-gun salute.
During the daylight hours the change of the guard ceremony occurs on the hour in the winter months and on a 30-minute
schedule during the summer. On the west, or rear, panel of the Tomb (facing the Amphitheater) the following is inscribed: