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The

Unknown

Soldiers

 

 

On November 11, 1918 the two opposing armies called the Allied Forces and the Central Powers declared an Armistice and the first world war came to a close.  Never before in the history of our man has a war engulfed so large a region, or demanded the service of so many.  Among the Allied forces more than 42 million soldiers were mobilized.  More than five million were killed in action or died of wounds or disease related to the war.  In all, between BOTH sides, 65 million men and women were called to service, more than half of them (37.5 million) either killed, wounded, captured, or missing in action.  With sadness for so great a tragedy, that war was optimistically called The War to End All Wars.

Hundreds of thousands of soldiers were buried where they fell on the battlefield, others were moved to large military cemeteries for burial.  Often bodies would be interred in mass graves, and a large percentage of the young men who fought The Great War went to their final resting place unknown...their graves unmarked.

In 1916 while the war was still in progress, the French began considering a special memorial to all the unknown French soldiers who fell in battle.  Almost simultaneously a British Army Chaplain in France noticed a grave with a rough wooden cross on which was penciled the words: "An Unknown British Soldier".  The seeds of these concepts grew and, when the war had ended, began taking root in the respective countries.  

On November 11, 1920, the second anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I, elaborate patriotic ceremonies were held in both Great Britain and France. These culminated with the interment of an unidentified World War soldier from each country.  The French Unknown Soldier was buried at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, the British Unknown at Westminster Abbey in London.

The following on November 11, 1921 after a procession from the United States Capitol to Arlington National Cemetery, American veterans of The Great War laid to rest one of their own...like his counter-parts in France and England, unknown to all but God.  From that point on the American Tomb of the Unknown Soldier became a sacred place on the most hallowed ground in our nation.

President Warren G. Harding laid the American Unknown Soldier to rest with the words:

"We know not whence he came, but only that his death marks him with the everlasting glory of an American dying for his country."

The President then presented to the Unknown Soldier the Medal of Honor, our Nation's highest recognition for valor Above and Beyond the Call of Duty.

In addition to the Medal of Honor, the Unknown Soldier was awarded the Victoria Cross by the British, the Croix d Guerre by the French, and the highest military awards of other nations who defended freedom during World War I.  The United States recriprocated by awarding Medals of Honor to the Unknown Soldiers buried in France.

In 1922 the people of Belgium laid to rest their own Unknown Soldier with appropriate ceremony, and again the United States recognized the sacrifice and valor of the Belgium Unknown with award of the Medal of Honor.  Subsequent similar burials in Rome and Rumania followed, and in each of these again, the President awarded the Medal of Honor. 

Since the birth of the Medal of Honor during the Civil War, it has been reserved for presentation ONLY to those who serve in the military forces of the United States.  It has been presented to numerous foreign-born soldiers, sailors, and marines; but all of these were members of the U.S. military at the time of their deed.  

Of the less than 3,500 Medals of Honor awarded, only FIVE have been presented to foreign soldiers.

Following World War II, some of these nations added memorials to the unknown soldiers of that war.  Before the United States could inter an unidentified soldier from that war however, it was fighting another war in Korea.  In 1958 the Unknown Soldier of World War II and the Unknown Soldier of Korea were interred in a double ceremony.  More than two decades later they were joined by the unidentified remains of an American serviceman who died in Vietnam.


Since the birth of the United States in 1776 more than a million American men and women have fallen on the fields of battle in defense of freedom.  Undoubtedly, thousands of them performed heroic deeds that, had they been properly witnessed or documented, might have earned them a Medal of Honor.  The Unknown Soldiers serve as a reminder of all the unknown acts of selflessness, courage, and supreme sacrifice that have preserved our nation.  As such, it is appropriate that each also is recognized among the list of our nation's greatest heroes.

 

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