Tomb Of the Unknown Soldier

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Tomb of The Unknown Soldier

For more than 100 years, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier has been a monument to fallen service members. It is dedicated to the many remains that have been brought back from war but remain unidentified. This monument is in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA. There is no official name for this monument, but it is commonly called the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. 


The History of the Tomb

In 1921, the tomb was created to bury a WWI soldier who had been found in France. A marble tomb with three layers was built on the site. There were six sections of granite that make up the lower two levels. The top layer was nine granite blocks, and an opening was made in the center. A different stone was used to create the slab that covered the opening. 

The original intention of the tomb was to have a large structure on its top. However, the money for the top structure was not granted until 1926. At that time, there was a design contest to choose the design it would use. Lorimer Rich, architect, and Thomas Hudson Jones, sculptor, were the content winners. In 1929, the creation of the top structure was contracted. 


The marble was found in Colorado, and it started being quarried in 1930. In 1931, the marble arrived at the site of the tomb and it began to be assembled. By the end of the year, the structure of the tomb was completed. After that, there were carvings made by the Piccirilli Brothers, the same people who carved the Lincoln Memorial’s statue of Lincoln. In 1932, everything was completed, and it was not given a formal ceremony. 


Remains From Different Wars

The original grave of the unknown WWI service member is where the tomb was placed, but the memorial soon contained the remains of service members from other wars. There are crypts on the site containing unknown remains from WWII and from the Korean War. There is a crypt in between these two that once contained the remains of an unknown soldier from the Vietnam War. However, using new DNA technology, that soldier’s remains were identified, and his remains were removed from the crypt. There are slabs of marble that mark the locations of those crypts. 


All of the unidentified soldiers buried at the tomb have been awarded the Medal of Honor. Each time one was interred, a U.S. president was there at each funeral to preside over it. The unknown service member from WWI was also awarded the Victoria Cross as well as other top service awards from other countries. 


Guarding the Tomb

The tomb is guarded today 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Soldiers started to guard it during the day in 1926, but by 1937, it was always guarded. There is a strict process to choose the guards today. Each guard gets special training and learns a routine that is full of meaning. The number of steps the guard takes, the amount of time they are still, and how they put their weapon on their shoulder is dictated by the routine and the meaning behind it.  

If you’d like to learn more about Arlington, click here to read about Mount Vernon Trail