Who is Buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier?

Stacey Doud

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The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington, VAArlington National Cemetery

This Veterans’ Day (November 11, 2021) celebrated the 100th Anniversary of The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with parades, military flyovers, the placing of flags, and other events. The Tarrant County Veterans’ Day parade featured the U.S. Army Golden Knights, the Army’s aerial demonstration team, which included crew members skydiving over the area.

People who are not familiar with war history or have never looked in-depth into the subject of The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier may suppose that it is a grave with one veteran of unknown name, rank, and unit buried in it. In fact, there are Tombs located across the world, with the US “official” site being at the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA.

Over the years, the most tragic consequences of war have been the large numbers of unidentified deceased soldiers. There are several reasons why someone couldn’t be identified, including the lack of accurate record-keeping, the bodies had taken on too much damage, or the rush to bury the dead and mark gravesites. Before the Civil War, unidentified remains were often buried in mass graves. The remains of unknown soldiers and sailors from the War of 1812 were eventually discovered buried at the Washington Barracks, and in 1905, they were reburied at Arlington National Cemetery.

During the Civil War (1861-1865), which holds the record for the most casualties to this day, the lack of personal identification led to many unknown soldiers buried in battlefields or along routes that the military often marched along. In 1862, a system of national cemeteries was established to make sure that all service members received a proper burial.

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Honoring Veterans during Tarrant County's Veteran's Day CelebrationStacey Doud

Yet, at Arlington National Cemetery, there are still many unknowns from the Civil War, as well as 2,111 Union and Confederate soldiers that are buried beneath the Tomb of the Civil War Unknowns. Accurate statistics are unavailable, but historical experts estimate that almost half of those that died during the Civil War remain unidentified.

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Citizen Mark Smith in Civil War garbStacey Doud

Things changed during the Spanish-American War (1898). The U.S. military adopted a new policy that required all the bodies of service members who had died in other countries to be shipped back to the U.S. It also required that soldiers be buried in temporary graves with identifying information. This process was overseen by The Army’s Quartermaster Corps. After this policy change, rates of proper identification increased dramatically.

“The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier” was initially dedicated by the Army on November 11, 1921, which marked the signing of a treaty/ceasefire between the Allies and Germany, which was originally called, “Armistice Day.”

Now called Veterans’ Day, November 11 is a day to honor the armistice treaty signed between Germany and the Allies of World War I, which occurred in France in 1918. This agreement took effect at 11:00 am, which is where the saying, "The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month,” came from. It is also a time to honor all veterans, living or dead.

In 1921, Arlington National Cemetery became a final resting place for one of America’s unidentified World War I soldiers. In 1958 and 1984, unknown soldiers from later wars were added.

It is tradition now for individuals, families, and organizations to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to honor their ultimate sacrifices.

It’s been 100 years since the unknown soldier from WWI was buried. Yet, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier continues to be a powerful symbol of service and sacrifice, mourning and memory.

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I live and work in the Grapevine, TX area and enjoy sharing my experiences with others. As a writer/reporter/photographer and editor, I especially like to report on positive things, but I'll always bring you local news! Thank you for viewing my profile and I'd be honored if you'd follow me!

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