Facts About The Tomb Of The Unknown Soldier
On Veteran's Day, we try to remember our soldiers and the sacrifices they have made to keep our nation free. In the United States, we do this in the form of military services, parades, offers to our veterans and a special tribute at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington, D.C. This national monument was built in 1921 to commemorate the U.S. Soldiers who went to war and never came back. The bodies interred there, as the name suggests, are unknown. Here are a few interesting facts about this memorial and what it means to our country, as well as the rest of the world.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier didn't originate in the United States. The idea for it came following the First World War from a suggestion by the British for honoring soldiers that could not be identified. During World War One, British Army chaplain, Reverend David Railton, saw a grave marked by a rough cross which bore the pencil-written legend "An Unknown British Soldier". He suggested the creation of a national level, symbolic funeral and burial of an "Unknown Warrior". King George V and the public all gave their support. At the same time, there was a similar undertaking in France, where the idea was debated and agreed upon in Parliament. The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior was approved on Armistice Day, 1920. The French followed suite two months later with their own shrine.
On December 21, 1920, Congressman Hamilton Fish, Jr., of New York introduced a resolution calling for the return to the United States of an unknown American soldier killed in France and his burial with appropriate ceremonies in a tomb to be constructed at the Memorial Amphitheater in Arlington National Cemetery. The measure was approved on March 4, 1921 as Public Resolution 67 of the 66th Congress. An unidentified American service member has been laid to rest, with the highest honors, for World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. In 1998, the body of Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie, who was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972, was determined to be the unknown soldier for the Vietnam war. After DNA confirmation, his body was exhumed and returned to his family.
On March 25, 1926 orders were sent down directing the formation of an armed military guard at the Tomb, during daylight hours only. Too many visitors to the cemetery were using the original crypt as a picnic table. Later, on July 2, 1937, this was increased to 24 hours a day, seven days a week. These orders stand until this day. The soldiers who stand guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier are hand picked and rigorously trained. They have come from every state in the Union and are made up of both men and women. Over the years the guards have comprised of regular army soldiers and draftees. Over 80% of the soldiers who tryout for this duty do not make it.
The reason that 80% of the guards do not make this duty roster is because of some of the strict rules that are in place. Guards must be between 5'10" - 6'2". Their waist size cannot exceed 30". In addition to these physical traits, the soldiers must dedicate two years of service to being a Tomb guard. They live in the barracks under the tomb (in the cemetery). During the first six months of duty at the tomb, the guards are forbidden from speaking or watching any television. Additionally, they may not swear in public, nor drink alcohol - FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES!
After the first few countries built Tombs to Unknown Soldiers after World War One, other nations started to do the same. In fact, there are forty-three other countries that have similar tombs to their fallen warriors. Some countries - like Japan - have more than one Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. You might be surprised, however, to learn that United States also has more than one tomb. There is the main tomb, as described above at Arlington National Cemetery. You can also find the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier on Washington Square in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and the Tomb of the Unknown Confederate Soldier at Beauvoir in Biloxi, Mississippi.