Virginia – Arlington National Cemetery: The Tomb of the Unknowns

Virginia – Arlington National Cemetery: The Tomb of the Unknowns
Virginia Western
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The Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, was completed and opened to the public on April 9, 1932 without any ceremony in the plaza of the Arlington Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery. Inspired by the United Kingdom’s Tomb of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey and France’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier beneath the Arc de Triomphe, Congress authorized that four unknowns be exhumed from World War I cemeteries in France and interred at Arlington National Cemetery on November 11, 1921. Initially known the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, it has become known by its more generic moniker when other unknown serviceman were later entombed, but was never officially named.

The tomb’s design was selected in a competition won by architect Lorimer Rich. The sarcophagus, made of white Yule marble quarried in Colorado, has a flat-faced form and is relieved at the corners and along the sides by neo-classical pilasters, or columns, set into the surface. Sculpted into the east panel which faces Washington, D.C., are three Greek figures representing Peace, Victory, and Valor. Inscribed on the western panel of the Tomb are the words: "Here Rests in Honored Glory an American Soldier Known But to God." Six wreaths, representing the six major battles of World War I, are carved into the north and south of the tomb. White marble slabs, flush with the plaza, mark the crypts of the unknowns from World War II, interred on May 30, 1958, the Korean War, interred on May 30, 1958, and the Vietnam War, interred on May 28, 1984. The remains of the Vietnam unknown, later identified as Air Force 1st Lt. Michael J. Blassie, were disinterred on May 14, 1998 and the crypt remains empty.

The Tomb of the Unknowns has perpetually guarded by the U.S. Army, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, since July 2, 1937. Since July 2, 1937, this has been the responsibility of The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard). Guards are changed every half hour during the summer months, every hour during the winter months, and every two hours when the cemetery is closed to the public.

Arlington National Cemetery, a military cemetery directly across the Potomac from Washington, D.C., was established during the Civil War on the grounds of the Arlington House, formerly the estate of the family of Robert E. Lee’s wife Mary Anna (Custis) Lee, a descendant of Martha Washington. By 1864, the military cemeteries of Washington and Alexandria were filled with Union dead. After Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs quickly selected Arlington as a replacement, in part to prevent the Lee’s from ever returning, the government confiscated the land claiming unpaid property taxes. Today, more than 300,000 people, including veterans and military casualties from every one of the nation’s wars, are interred in the 624-acre cemetery administered by the Department of the Navy.

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