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President Warren G. Harding Dedicating the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of World War I
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 the 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 Korea".
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
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.
Unknown Soldier of World War I was also awarded the Distinguished
Service Cross, as well as the highest awards of all allied natins.
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
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.
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