The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Who selected the Unknown Soldier that became interned at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery? Sgt. Edward F. Younger of Headquarters Co., 2nd Batl., 50th Infantry, American Forces in Germany

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Nov 11, 1922

France and Great Britain each repatriated and buried one unknown soldier on Armistice Day, November 11th, 1920 to represent those service members whose remains were not identified and not repatriated. The British Unknown lies in Westminster Abbey, and the French Unknown at the base of the Arc de Triomphe.

Hamilton Fish, Jr., a New York Congressman and World War I veteran, proposed legislation for a special tomb at Arlington National Cemetery “to bring home the body of an unknown American warrior who in himself represents no section, creed, or race in the late war and who typifies, moreover, the soul of America and the supreme sacrifice of her heroic dead.”

Four bodies of unidentified US military personnel were exhumed from four different cemeteries across France in October 1921. The four caskets were shipped to a town now known as Châlons-en-Champagne. The city hall was used for the selection ceremony.

French and American soldiers, under the direction of MAJ Robert P. Harbold from the American Quartermaster Corps, rearranged the caskets to separate them from the shipping crate they had arrived in. MAJ Harbold then chose Sgt. Younger to make the selection. Sgt. Younger was given a spray of white roses which he placed on one of the caskets to designate the selection.

Tomb of the Unknown in February 2021

The Unknown service member was moved by caison and rail to port where they were loaded onto the USS Olympia. The Unknown arrived back on American soil on November 9th, 1921 at the Washington Navy Shipyard. They laid in state in the US Capitol Rotunda as 90,000 members of the public paid their respects on November 10th. On November 11th, the Unknown was taken by horse-drawn caisson as part of a procession from the Capital, across the Potomac River, to Arlington National Cemetery. 

The entire nation observed two-minutes silence at the start of a state funeral conducted at the Memorial Amphitheater. Warren G. Harding, President of the United States, officiated and presented the country’s highest military honor, the Medal of Honor, to the Unknown. Dignitaries from other nations also presented medals before the Unknown was interred in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Sergeant Frank Witchey, Headquarters Trumpeter for the 3rd US Cavalry Regiment, sounded Taps for the internment of the World War I Unknown.

[1922 Tomb photo courtesy the Library of Congress. 2021 Sentry U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Gabriel Silva.]

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