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Unknown Soldier

Of World War I





  At the base of the Arch de Triomphe stands a torch.  Every evening at 6:30 P.M. it is rekindled, and veterans lay wreaths decorated with red, white and blue near its flickering flame.   It burns in the darkness to recall the sacrifice of an unknown French soldier who gave his life during World War I. 

The idea for an unknown soldier to be honored in death in France was first initiated in 1916 while World War I was still being fought and the outcome in certain doubt.  On November 12, 1919, a year and a day after the end of World War I, the concept was given formal recognition and it was determined that the Unknown Soldier would be laid to rest at the Pantheon.  (The Pantheon is a famous Neoclassical building in Paris that contains the remains of some of France's most famous citizens and leaders.)

The following year, after a large-scale letter writing campaign, it was finally determined that the Unknown Soldier would be buried at the base of the Arc de Triomphe.  The legislation authorizing the memorial, passed unanimously, stated:

On November 10, 1920 at the Citadel of Verdun, Auguste Thien reviewed eight identical coffins, each bearing the remains of an unknown French soldier who had been killed during the Great War.  Thien selected the sixth of the eight coffins, which was transported to Paris to rest in the chapel on the first floor of the Arc de Triomphe.  There the coffin remained until January 28, 1921 at which time the Unknown French soldier was laid in his permanent place of honor at the base of the Arc de Triomphe.

On October 22, 1922 the French Parliament declared the eleventh day of November in each year to be a national holiday.  The following year on November 11, 1923 Andre Maginot, French Minister for War, lit the eternal flame for the first time.  Since that date it has become the duty of the Committee of the Flame to rekindle that torch each evening at twilight.


The President of the United States
in the name of The Congress
takes pleasure in presenting the
Medal of Honor to

The Unknown Soldier of France
World War I

By virtue of an act of Congress approved 4 March 1921, the Medal of Honor, emblem of the highest ideals and virtues, is bestowed in the name of the Congress of the United States upon the unknown, unidentified British soldier and French soldier, buried, respectively, in Westminster Abbey and Arc de Triomphe.

Whereas Great Britain and France, two of the Allies of the United States in the World War, have done honor to the unknown dead of their armies by placing with fitting ceremony the body of an unidentified soldier, respectively, in Westminster Abbey and in the Arc de Triomphe; and

Whereas animated by the same spirit of comradeship in which we of the American Forces fought alongside these allies, we desire to add whatever we can to the imperishable glory won by the deeds of our Allies and commemorated in part by this tribute to their unknown dead:

Now therefore,
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America assembled, 
That the President of the United States of America be, and he hereby is, authorized to bestow with appropriate ceremonies, military and civil, the Congressional Medal of Honor upon the unknown, unidentified British soldier buried in Westminster Abbey, London, England, and upon the unknown, unidentified French soldier buried in the Arc de Triomphe, Paris, France.

(A.G. 220.523)
War Department General Orders, No. 52
1 December 1922, Sec. II



"Here lies a French soldier
who died for his country"
1914 - 1918

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