100th Anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

One of America’s most iconic memorials will be celebrating its 100th anniversary on Veteran’s Day 2021, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. It is visited every year by millions of visitors. The National Archives Still Pictures Branch holds photographs relating to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier depicting visitors paying their respects, wreath laying ceremonies, the Tomb itself, and the Old Guard.

The Tomb is the final resting place for America’s unknown soldiers of war from World War I, World War II, and Korean War. The story begins back in October of 1921 when Sgt. Edward F. Younger, U.S. Army, was chosen to select the Unknown Soldier from World War I. The selection took place at the city hall in Chalons-Champagne.

The Unknown World War I soldier laid in state at the Place de L’Hotel DeVille in Chalons-Sur-Marne, France and then traveled by train to Le Havre, France where numerous ceremonies were held, including the decoration of the Cross of the Legion of Honor by the the French Minister of Pensions. The Unknown Soldier traveled to Washington, DC aboard the USS Olympia and arrived at the Navy Yard on November 9, 1921. Upon arrival to DC, he lied in state at the US Capitol where President Warren G. Harding paid his respects. A procession took place on Pennsylvania Ave where thousands of visitors lined up along the streets to watch the caisson pass by followed by several prominent people, including President Harding and Gen. John J. Pershing. Memorial services and internment were held at the Arlington Amphitheater.

The Old Guard is the name coined for the 3rd Infantry Regiment. Soldiers volunteer and go through training to become Tomb Guards. The duties include walking 21 steps on a black mat behind the Tomb and face east, north, and south and then switches his weapon all in 21 seconds. The changing of the guard occurs every half hour from April 1st to September 30th and every hour from October 1st through March 31st.

Wreath laying ceremonies have long been a tradition to honor American military servicemen and occur on Memorial and Veterans Days where visitors, presidents, politicians, and foreign dignitaries would place a wreath in front of the tomb and give speeches.

The photographs depicted in this post are from RG 111: Photographs of American Military Activities, ca. 1918 – ca. 1981 (111-SC) and RG 330: Combined Military Service Digital Photographic Files, 1982-2007 (330-CFD). There are no known copyright restrictions.

Please visit the 100th Anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Google Arts & Culture Exhibit.

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