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

   President Warren G. Harding Dedicating the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of World War I   


The
Unknown
  Soldier

More than 1 Million American men and women have given their lives in the defense of freedom.  For all those whose names we do not know, the Unknown Soldiers of World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam serve as a somber reminder of the cost of Freedom.

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Navy Corpsman William Charette looked out from the deck of the U.S.S. Canberra. The medic had saved many lives during the Korean war and  just five years earlier had been awarded the Medal of Honor.  Before him on this day in 1958 were three flag-draped caskets, soldiers who hadn't survived their war.  What made these three men unique was the fact that no one knew their names, knew from whence they hailed, or even in what branch of service they had served.   They were unknowns.  Even without knowing the details of their lives, the fact remained that they had answered their country's call, defended the ideals the flag that covered their caskets represented, and sacrificed their lives in the process.  Slowly the corpsman bent and placed a wreath beside one of the caskets.  In so doing he designated which of the three would be buried as "The Unknown Soldier of World War II".  

             Since 1776, no generation of Americans has been spared the responsibility of defending freedom by force of arms. Forty million American men and women have answered the call to duty, more than one million sacrificing their lives in the belief that some principles are worth fighting…and even dying…to preserve.  Fewer than 3,500 of these brave soldiers have been awarded the Medal of Honor, but each and every man or woman who has ever served with honor and distinction is, in a sense, a hero. Among the legacy left by these millions of unheralded warriors are many unknown acts of courage and sacrifice. Certainly there are many whose actions may have merited such an award but for whatever reason the moment of valor was not recorded for posterity. The unknown soldiers buried in Arlington and elsewhere in the world ARE EACH RECIPIENTS of the Medal of Honor, unknown veterans of combat who in death, remind us of the unknown heroism of so many millions of others. 

            Veterans Day, the holiday set aside to remember the sacrifice of our Nation's men and women in uniform, took its roots from the signing of the armistice ending World War I in 1919.  As such it was appropriate that on that day two years later, the unknown soldier of World War I was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery beneath a crypt bearing the inscription "Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God".  After a sober procession through the  streets of Washington, President Warren G. Harding pinned the Medal of Honor to the flag that covered the casket.  (The Unknown Soldier of World War I was also awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, as well as the highest awards of all allied nations.  Congress further authorized awards of the Medal of Honor to the unknown soldiers of World War I who were buried in Belgium, Great Britain, France, Italy, and Rumania.)  

 

             The war to end all wars wasn't, and within 25 years 16 million men and women proved their willingness to protect liberty and human dignity at the risk of their own lives.  A burial was planned for the unidentified remains of one such World War II casualty when the United States found itself defending freedom yet again, this time in Korea.  The interment was delayed until that war had ended.  On Memorial Day a month after Corpsman Charette placed that symbolic wreath aboard the U.S.S. Canberra, the unknown soldiers of both World War II and Korea were lowered to rest next to their brother in arms from World War I.   President Dwight D. Eisenhower presented the Medal of Honor to each.

            Nine years after the Vietnam War ended President Ronald Reagan stood before yet another flag draped casket at Arlington.  "Thank you dear son," he said more for benefit of the solemn gathering than the young man beneath the flag who could no longer hear such words.  "May God cradle you in His loving arms."  Then, as had two presidents before him, he awarded the Medal of Honor to an unknown American soldier who had made the ultimate sacrifice. (The Vietnam War Unknown Soldier was chosen  in a similar wreath laying ceremony, the wreath being placed by Vietnam War Medal of Honor recipient Allan Kellogg, Jr.)

 

            Years later advancing technology allowed for the identity of the Unknown Soldier of the Vietnam War to be identified and his body was removed and re-interred by his surviving family.  The resting place of the Unknown Soldier of that war is now empty but the Medal of Honor remains to honor the unknown valor of a  still another generation of unknown heroes.

Procession to Arlington for the Unknown Soldier of World War I.  Among the pall bearers were WWI Medal of Honor recipients Samuel Woodfill and Ernest Janson.

 

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