Tomb of the Unknowns

U.S. #570 was issued on the first anniversary of the interment of the Unknown Soldier.

On November 11, 1921, President Warren G. Harding dedicated the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.

After World War I ended, the U.S. and other Allied nations had a number of deceased soldiers that couldn’t be identified.  To honor their great sacrifices, each country created memorials to their unknown soldiers.

U.S. #701 from the popular Series of 1926-31.

On March 4, 1921, the U.S. Congress approved a resolution to create a memorial and inter an unknown American soldier from World War I at the Arlington National Cemetery Memorial Amphitheater that Armistice Day.  World War I veteran Edward Younger was then selected to travel to France to choose the unknown soldier to be interred.  Fallen soldiers were selected from four different cemeteries – Aisne-Marne, Meuse-Argonne, Somme, and St. Mihiel. Younger selected one of these soldiers to be interred at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

That Unknown Soldier then lay in State for several hours as French and American soldiers came and paid their respects.  The soldier was then transported to the USS Olympia, received honors along the way, and then began his journey home.   The soldier returned to America on November 9, and laid in state in the U.S. Capitol, where he was again visited by thousands of patriotic Americans.

Click this image to get all the stamps and covers on this page in one convenient order.

Then on Armistice Day (now Veterans Day), November 11, 1921, the soldier was removed from the Capitol at 8:30 am and taken to the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery with a military escort. He was followed by a long and seldom-seen procession for a fallen soldier – President Harding, the Chief and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court, Members of the Diplomatic Corps, Congressional Medal of Honor recipients, senators, congressmen, military generals and officers, state officials, and more.

U.S. #2154 was based on a drawing of U.S. troops at the Second Battle of the Marne.

Upon arriving at the tomb, the soldier received a simple but moving funeral.  President Harding gave a speech and conferred upon the soldier the Medal of Honor and Distinguished Service Cross.  Then members of other Allied governments from the war gave their highest military decorations.  This was followed by three salvos of artillery and the playing of taps, bringing the ceremony to an end.

Item #20097 – Commemorative cover marking the 65th anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknowns.

There was always a plan to place a structure on the site, but funding wasn’t secured until 1926.  The tomb was placed there without a formal ceremony on April 9, 1932.  The simple structure has the Greek figures of Peace, Victory, and Valor, and the phrase, “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”

U.S. #940 – Classic First Day Cover honoring the veterans of World War II.

Since July 2, 1937, a perpetual guard and the United States flag have stood sentinel over the Tomb of the Unknown. Selected from the Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment, the tomb guards are an elite group who stand sentinel around the clock, regardless of weather conditions. The guards are changed every 30-120 minutes, depending on the season and time of day, and the schedule does not change due to inclement weather. This dedication is incorporated into the Sentinel’s Creed: “Through the years of diligence and praise and the discomfort of the elements, I will walk my tour in humble reverence to the best of my ability.”  During blizzards, hurricanes, and the quiet of a summer’s night, the guards and the U.S. flag remain with the unknown soldiers, promising their sacrifices will never be forgotten by a grateful nation.

U.S. #2152 was based on 1950 photo of U.S. troops retreating from Chosin Reservoir.

In 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower signed legislation to honor the unknown of World War II and the Korean War.  Those soldiers were selected in similar ceremonies and awarded the Medal of Honor before being interred beside the World War I unknown.

U.S. #1802 was issued on this day in 1979.

In 1984, a Vietnam soldier was interred at the Tomb of the Unknowns.  However, 10 years later a POW/MIA activist figured out who the soldier was.  His DNA was tested and confirmed and he was reinterred at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.  The Vietnam Unknown tomb was changed to say “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen.”

Click here to read President Harding’s address at the 1921 ceremony.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

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  1. There are 135 national cemeteries in 40 states and Puerto Rico, plus 24 American military cemeteries and memorials overseas. The most well known are probably the Arlington National Cemetery, the Gettysburg National Cemetery, and the Normandy American Cemetery (in France from D-Day of World War II). The first ones were created following the Civil War. For visitors to Washington, DC, a visit to the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington Cemetery and watching the changing of the guard can be a humbling and moving experience. This is November 11, the original date of Veterans Day – first known as Armistice Day when created following World War I. As a World War II veteran myself, I salute and am grateful for all our veterans and also for our current service men and women.

  2. Thank you for taking Veterans Day to remind us of this important monument & the continuing recognition of the cost of liberty & freedom in our great country.

  3. What a great article enlightening readers about the Tombs of the Unknown. May these great Americans rest in peace knowing a grateful nation honors their sacrifice.

  4. I visited the changing of the guard as part of an Honor flight to DC.
    It was not my first time, but the most impressive, because we witnessed it
    in the rain from the front row.
    Brings tears to my eyes to even think about it.

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