Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers
(Inspiration for this article came on Veterans Day 2004)

After World War I, officials of the Allied countries found that the bodies of many soldiers killed in battle could not be identified. The governments of Belgium, France, Great Britain, Italy, and the United States decided to honor in some special way the memory of these soldiers who died in war, stripped not only of life but of identity. Each government chose a symbolic unknown soldier, buried his remains near the national capital, and built a monument in his honor. Belgium placed its unknown soldier in a tomb at the base of the Colonnade of the Congress in Brussels. France buried its unknown soldier beneath the Arc de Triomphe in the center of Paris, and keeps a flame always burning over the grave. Great Britain buried its unknown soldier in Westminster Abbey. Italy’s Unknown Soldier lies in front of the monument to Victor Emmanuel in Rome.
The Unknown Soldier of the United States was taken from an American cemetery in France. On Armistice Day (a.k.a. Veterans Day), 1921, he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington D.C. The tomb, completed 10 years later, has a white marble sarcophagus over the grave bearing the inscription, “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”
After the Korean War, Congress directed that an “Unknown American” from both World War II and the Korean War be buried beside the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington. Bodies were chosen and buried in marble-capped crypts at the head of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Memorial Day, 1958. In 1984 six bones of an unknown soldier from the Vietnam War were added to the shrine.
In the 1980’s DNA “fingerprinting” did not exist. Then in January 1998 the Pentagon decided to exhume and examine the skeletal remains of the Vietnam Unknown Soldier. Using modern identification methods it was determined that the bones belonged to Air Force pilot Michael J. Blassie of St. Louis. Today, thanks to medical science, American war casualties will no longer be classified as “Unknown.”

An honor guard from the Honor Guard Company of the 1st Battle Group, 3rd Infantry, Fort Myer, Virginia keeps a sentry on duty at the tomb every day of the year. The sentry is changed each hour during the day and about every two hours at night. The changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers is a military ceremony many visitors come to Arlington Cemetery to witness. This ceremony pays tribute to all men and women who died defending our nation during times of war, especially those whose names are known only to God.