The United States is in the process of commemorating the 100th anniversary of the selection and burial of its Unknown Solider; and there is still time for readers to get knee deep into history and to participate in the commemoration at Arlington National Cemetery. Specifically, Arlington has set aside 9 and 10 November for the Centennial Commemoration Public Flower Ceremony. During this Ceremony, members of the public who register in advance can lay an individual flower at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier—a very rare occurrence indeed! Then, at 9:00am on 11 November there will be a fly-over and full honors procession taking place along a special route within the Cemetery. This is open to the public. Readers can find more information for both events at this website: https://arlingtoncemetery.mil/#/. We would encourage readers to act now to schedule their participation!
On 24 October 2021 a commemorative ceremony was held in the French city of Châlons-en-Champagne, where one hundred years earlier Sgt. Edward F. Younger made the final selection of the Unknown Soldier. A summary of the Commemoration can be seen in this Stars and Stripes article: Ceremonies in French city mark 100 years of honoring American Unknown Soldier | Stars and Stripes.
Likewise, on 25 October 2021 a commemorative ceremony was held aboard the USS Olympia at the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. One hundred years earlier, the Unknown Soldier arrived in the French port of Le Havre, where he was taken aboard the Olympia for transport to the United States. An article summarizing this Commemoration can be found here: https://www.legion.org/honor/photos/254136/unknown-soldiers-voyage-home-remembered.
For those who prefer a deeper dive into the original events, we can suggest two books, with the caveat that we have not fully read either: The first is a 1971 book by B.C. Mossman and M.W. Stark titled, “The Last Salute: Civil and Military Funerals, 1921 – 1969.” Chapter One describes the selection, transport and ceremony of the Unknown Soldier in 1921. It can be found online at: https://history.army.mil/books/Last_Salute/Index.htm. The second is a 2018 book by Patrick K. O’Donnell titled, “The Unknowns: The Untold Story of America’s Unknown Soldier and WW1’s Most Decorated Heroes who Brought him Home.”
Videos showing archival footage of the ceremonies and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier are readily available on YouTube and similar channels. However, we had difficulty getting them to play when posting links in this blogpost. Rather than delay the post, we encourage you to locate these on your own.
The ceremony built into the selection, transport and burial of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery is a unique story that reflects the efforts of the American military and public to find meaning and solace after the huge casualties of WW1. (Of course, the same was happening in other countries who suffered far higher casualties.) As we approach 11 November 2021, it is perhaps fitting to spend a little more time understanding the Unknown Soldier’s story—and those who chose to get knee deep into history can still participate in the Commemoration.
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