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The

Unknown

Soldiers

(WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam)

 

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is the most visited gave site at Arlington, or for that matter, in America.  Beneath the white marble Tomb sarcophagus lies the body of an unidentified American soldier from World War I.  West of the sarcophagus beneath three marble slabs that lie flush with the plaza are crypts for the unidentified remains of an American soldier from World War II and Korea, and the empty crypt that once held the unidentified remains of a serviceman from the Vietnam War.

The selection process of the Unknown Soldiers and the ceremony with which each was interred has been both intricate and moving.  Near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a large plaque that details that history.

TEXT OF PLAQUE

Under authority of Public Resolution 67, of the 66th Congress, approved March 4, 1921, An unknown American Soldier was exhumed from each of the four American cemeteries in France.  They were placed in identical caskets and assembled at Chalons Sur Marne.

The Unknown Soldier was selected on October 24, 1921.  Sergeant Edward F. Younger, US Army, carrying a spray of white roses, entered the room where the four unmarked, flag draped caskets were resting.  He slowly circled, silently placing the roses on one of the caskets.  Thus the unknown soldier was officially designated.  The three remaining unknowns were then returned to the Meuse Argonne Cemetery.

The unknown soldier was placed aboard the US Cruiser Olympia, which arrived at the Nation's Capitol on November 9, 1921.  The honored remains were taken to the Rotunda of the United States Capitol to rest in state until Armistice Day on November 11.  The Unknown Soldier was moved to the Memorial Amphitheater in Arlington National Cemetery.  After services in the Amphitheater, the remains were borne to the sarcophagus for brief committal rites.  The impressive ceremony closed with three salvos of artillery, the sounding of Taps, and the National Salute.

Under authority of Public Law 429, 79th Congress, Approved 24 June 1946.  13 Unknown Americans who lost their lives while serving overseas in the Armed Forces of the United States during World War II were exhumed from American cemeteries in Europe and Africa and shipped in identical caskets to Epinal, France.  Major General Edward J. O'Neill, US Army, on May 12, 1958, solemnly chose from among these caskets one to be designated as the Trans Atlantic candidate Unknown.  The remaining unknown Americans were reinterred.

The remains of two unknown Americans were disinterred on April 15, 1958 from the National Cemetery of the Pacific, Hawaii, and four unknowns were disinterred from the Fort McKinley American Cemetery and Memorial in the Philippines.  The six unknowns wee then taken to Hickam Air Force Base, where on May 16, 1958, Colonel Glenn T. Eagleston, US Air Force, placed a white carnation lei, selecting the candidate Unknown to represent the Trans Pacific Phase of World War II.  The five other caskets were reinterred.

The candidate unknown was then transported to the cruiser Canberra where the final selection of the World War II unknown took place on the after-missile deck of the Canberra.  Hospitalman First Class William R. Charette, the Navy's only active enlisted holder of the Medal of Honor, had the distinction of making the selection of the World War II unknown.  After a moments hesitation he placed a wreath at the foot of the casket on his right.  This was the Unknown of World War II.  The unknown not selected received a sailor's burial at sea.

Under authority of Public Law 972, 84th Congress, approved August 3, 1956, 4 unknown Americans who lost their lives while serving overseas in the Armed Forces of the United States during the Korean Conflict were exhumed from the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii.  On May 15, 1958 Master Sergeant Ned Lyle, US Army, holding a carnation wreath stood momentarily silent before the four identical flag-draped caskets.  He placed the wreath on the end casket to signify the selection of the Korean War Unknown.  The remaining unknown Americans were reinterred at the National Cemetery of the Pacific.  The Unknown of Korea was transported to the Cruiser Canberra to join the Unknown of World War II.

At sea off Norfolk, Virginia, the Unknowns of World War II and Korea were transferred to the Destroyer Blandy, which brought them to the Nation's Capitol.  Upon their arrival on May 28, 1958 the Unknowns were taken to the Rotunda of the Nation's Capitol, to rest in state until Memorial Day, May 30, 1958.  The Unknowns were then moved to the Memorial Amphitheater in Arlington National Cemetery and there before the distinguished guests, the President awarded the Medal of Honor to each.  After the services, they were borne to this plaza, and following religious rites, they received a 21 Gun Salute.  The services concluded with the firing of three volleys and the sounding of Taps.

In 1973 Congress passed Public Law 93-43 directing the Secretary of Defense to inter an unknown American serviceman from the Vietnam Conflict at The Tomb of the Unknowns.  The sophisticated identification techniques were remarkably efficient, and it was not until 1984 that remains of an American serviceman were classified as unidentifiable.

During ceremonies at Pearl Harbor on May 17, 1984, Sgt. Maj. Allan Kellogg, Jr., A Medal of Honor recipient during the Vietnam Conflict, placed a wreath before the casket, formally designating the Unknown from the Vietnam Conflict.  The Unknown was placed aboard the USS Brewton for transport to the mainland United States.

The Unknown arrived at the U.S. Capitol on May 25, 1984, where he lay in state for three days in the Rotunda.  On Memorial Day, May 28, 1984, an elaborate funeral procession transferred the body to the Memorial Amphitheater.  During the service, President Ronald Reagan presented the Medal of Honor to the Unknown.  The Vietnam Unknown was then borne to the plaza and following religious rites, a 21 Gun Salute was rendered.  The solemn service concluded with 3 volleys of rifle fire, followed by the sounding of Taps.

 

The remains of the Vietnam Unknown at the Tomb of the UnknownsThe remains of the Vietnam Unknown were exhumed May 14, 1998. Based on mitochondrial DNA testing, Department of Defense scientists identified the remains as those of Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie, who was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972.  Lieutenant Blassie was subsequently reinterred near his family's home in St. Louis, Missouri.  Based upon the advancements in remains identification it seems unlikely that body of a truly unknown soldier from the Vietnam war could ever be found, and it has been determined that the crypt will therefore remain empty.

 

American Unknown Soldiers at Arlington Cemetery
World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam War

Citations
Of The Unknowns

The
Sarcophagus

Story of The
Unknown Soldiers

The Sentinels
Guarding the Tomb

Lt  Michael Blassie
Unknown no More

The Foreign Unknown Soldiers of World War I

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