Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Sacrifice, suffering, and grief are synonymous with war. A nation of families, friends and citizens, mourning the loss of their loved ones, need closure in order to start their grieving process. They need a place that represents this loss and celebrates the sacrifice that protect the liberties of free nations. Special days were dedicated for paying tribute to those who served since the earliest days of U.S. history. Yet, at the beginning of the 20th century, there remained no singular place for Americans to visit in order to pay tribute to those who gave all. Considering the amount of sacrifices made throughout U.S. history, it seemed natural when the U.S. Congress enacted legislation following World War I to dedicate such a place.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (Tomb) was established in 1921. The Unknown Soldiers laid to rest at the Tomb represent all missing and unknown service members who made the ultimate sacrifice – they not only gave their lives, but also their identities to protect these freedoms.
The Tomb is the final resting place for Unknowns from World War I, World War II, and the Korean War, and is guarded at all times. As Tomb Guards, we stand watch over their graves in humble reverence, ensuring the Unknowns rest in peace.
Stories of the Unknowns
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
The idea of honoring the unknown dead originated in Europe after World War I. The first country to honor its unknown warriors from that war was Great Britain. While on the Western Front, Reverend David Railton thought of arranging for the body of one, unknown serviceman to be transported back to England, and buried with full honours. Mr. Railton tried to express why he felt this was so important. In a letter he recalled an incident near Armentieres, where he came across a grave with a rough wooden cross inscribed "An unknown British soldier, of the Black Watch":
"How that grave caused me to think! But, who was he, and who were they [his folk]? Was he just a laddie? There was no answer to those questions, nor has there ever been yet. So, I thought and thought and wrestled in thought. What can I do to ease the pain of father, mother, brother, sister, sweetheart, wife and friend? Quietly and gradually there came out of the mist of thought this answer clear and strong, "Let this body - this symbol of him - be carried reverently over the sea to his native land". And I was happy for about five or ten minutes."
As for the United States, his idea was not meeting the best reception by the Government. However, after many veterans and families of soldiers killed in action lobbied for action, the Government went ahead with the selection and burial.
The unknown warrior was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey on Armistice Day, 11th November 1920, in an impressive ceremony which included the unveiling of the Cenotaph. The body, borne on a gun carriage, was covered with a Union Jack, on which were laid a steel trench helmet, a khaki belt and a crusader's sword. At the memorial service held in the Abbey the coffin was presided over by a guard of honour comprising Victoria Cross winners, which is the highest award for valour. The King scattered French soil, which had been specially brought from Flanders, over the coffin as it was laid to rest. The inscription read:
A BRITISH WARRIOR
WHO FELL IN THE GREAT WAR
FOR KING AND COUNTRY
The commanding general of American forces in France, Brigadier General William D. Connor, learned of the French project while it was still in the planning stage. Favorably impressed, he proposed a similar project for the United States to the Army Chief of Staff, General Peyton C. March, on 29 October 1919. General March denied the proposal, as it appeared that the Army Graves Registration Service eventually would identify all American dead, thus there was no need for such a memorial. Furthermore, the United States had no burial place for a fallen hero similar to Westminster Abbey or the Arc de Triomphe.
On 21 December 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 4 March 1921 as Public Resolution 67 of the 66th Congress.
The body of an unidentified soldier, killed in France, was laid to eternal rest in the plaza of the Memorial Amphitheater on 11 November 1921. This soldier represents all the unidentified and missing from World War I.
Since that time an unidentified American service member has been laid to rest, with the highest honors, for World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
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The Society of the Honor Guard, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (SHGTUS) is able to provide our programs, events, assistance, scholarships, and services due to the generosity of its members, organizations, and individuals. SHGTUS does not receive institutional funding. Note: The Society of the Honor Guard, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a 501(c)(3) organization, so your contributions may be fully tax deductible.
Did you know?
How many Sentinels have been female?
There have been over 630 tomb guards awarded the badge since 1958 when we started counting. There are hundreds more from the year 1926 when the Army started guarding the Tomb. The 3rd US Infantry (The Old Guard) is the unit that has been given the duty of guarding the Tomb. It was given this sacred duty in 1948. The Old Guard was -- and still is -- considered a combat unit. As an Infantry unit, females were not permitted in the ranks for many years. It wasn't until 1994 that females were permitted to volunteer to become a Sentinel when the 289th Military Police Company was attached to the Old Guard. The MP branch is a combat support unit and includes females.
In 1996, SGT Heather Johnson became the first female to earn the Tomb Guard Identification Badge. She volunteered for duty in June 1995 and earned her badge in 1996. However, SGT Johnson was not the only female Sentinel. Since then, there have been three additional female Sentinels awarded the Tomb Guard Identification Badge. SGT Danyell Wilson earned her badge in 1997, SSG Tonya Bell received hers in 1998, and SGT Ruth Hanks earned her badge, #643 in June 2015.
Several other units have since been attached to the Old Guard -- food service, transportation, medics, etc. -- so now females have an ever greater opportunity to become a Sentinel. Females must meet the same requirements as the male soldiers to be eligible to volunteer at the Tomb. the only difference is that females have a minimum height of 5'8" -- which is the same standard to be a member of the Old Guard.