Veterans Day gives Americans the opportunity to celebrate all who have served in the military, either during war or peacetime. It’s different from Memorial Day, when we pay tribute to those who lost their lives during their service to our country, particularly those who died because of combat. The Department of Veterans Affairs’ national Veterans Day theme is “Honoring All Who Served.” This year the VA has centered its national theme on the centennial commemoration of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.”
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is Arlington National Cemetery’s most iconic memorial. It is a neoclassical, white marble sarcophagus that stands atop a hill overlooking Washington, D.C. Congress approved the burial of an unidentified American soldier from World War I (WWI) in the plaza of cemetery in March 1921. The tomb was initially dedicated on what was then called Armistice Day, November 11, 1921. Sergeant Edward Younger, a WWI veteran who was wounded in combat, chose the Unknown WWI Soldier from among four identical caskets.
Over the past century, additional unknowns have been buried at the Tomb, and the site has become a people’s memorial that inspires reflection on service, valor, sacrifice, and mourning. The Tomb depicts three carved Greek figures representing peace, victory, and valor. Inscribed on the back of the tomb are the words: “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.” To the west of the sarcophagus are the crypts for an Unknown Soldier from World War II and the Korean War. The tomb also includes an empty crypt that once held the remains of an Air Force pilot who was killed in the Vietnam War but was identified in 1998 through DNA. In the cemetery itself, there are 4,723 unknown service members who died in wars dating back to the Civil War.
In 1926, Congress established a military guard to protect the Tomb. Since July 2, 1937, the Army has maintained a 24-hour guard over the tomb in shifts that last 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the time of year. During the changing of the guard, a sergeant or corporal walks to the plaza with another guard to relieve the soldier in an elaborate ceremony that takes place in blizzards, rainstorms, and heat waves. For 84 years, Army soldiers have performed this changing of the guard at the tomb.
This Veterans Day, take time to thank one of the approximately 19 million veterans in our country. They represent less than 10% of the total U.S. adult population. To those in uniform serving today, and to those who have served in the past, Military Outreach for Service honors you today and every day. If you haven’t already done so, please consider joining.