Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Had Its Origins in World War I
By David Vergun
via the Defense.gov web site
In 1916, after a British army chaplain noticed a grave marked "An Unknown British Soldier," he got the idea for what would become the United Kingdom's Tomb of the Unknown Warrior. That memorial was dedicated Nov. 11, 1920, two years after the armistice that ended World War I.
The idea took hold and spread among other wartime allies, including France, Italy and the U.S. On Nov. 11, 1921, the U.S. Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was dedicated in Arlington National Cemetery.
Military historian Patrick K. O'Donnell researched the backstory of that dedication, including the stories of the soldiers who brought the unknown soldier's remains to Arlington. He published his findings in the book "The Unknowns: The Untold Story of America's Unknown Soldier and WWI's Most Decorated Heroes Who Brought Him Home."
On Sept. 29, 1921, the War Department ordered the selection of an unknown soldier from those buried in France. The selection process was carried out by the U.S. Quartermaster Corps, in cooperation with the French and U.S. Navy, O'Donnell said.
Three weeks later, a Quartermaster Corps team exhumed four bodies of unidentified Americans from each of four American cemeteries in France: Aisne-Maine, Meuse-Argonne, Somme and St. Mihiel.
"Each was examined to ensure that the person had been a member of the American Expeditionary Forces, that he had died of wounds in combat, and that there were no clues to his identity whatsoever," O'Donnell said.
After mortuary preparation, the bodies were placed in identical caskets and shipping cases. The reason for this elaborate proceeding, O'Donnell explained, was to ensure that the one unknown soldier chosen would be truly a random selection, as this unknown soldier would represent the many other unknown soldiers. This followed the practice used by the other allies in their own process of selecting their own unknown soldiers.
Read the entire article on the Defense.gov web site.
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