Courtesy of Judith Leighton

Hello Mr. Patterson,Thought you may be interested in my story for your archives on the Cemetery.

On November 6th or 8th 1948, my mom was shot by a guard at the Tomb. Since that time they do not use real bullets. My mom was married to Lieutenant Robert Coslett and you should find info online since it was front page news in the Washington Post.

Mom turned out okay after surgery, but sued the government for $50k and won, the first to sue the government and win. If I can answer questions let me know.


Woman is Hit by Stray Bullet From Unknown Soldier TombWASHINGTON, November 28, 1948 – The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is seen by many during daylight but by few at night, when armed sentries patrol its sacred precincts.

These picked soldiers are under orders to protect the shrine with their lives if necessary.

Last night, Private William O'Connor, 20, of Medford, Massachusetts, was on guard duty.  He thought he heard prowlers.  Three times he shouted the challenge, “Who goes there?”  and got no answer.  Then he fired his rifle twice into the air.

In an apartment development 500 yars away Mrs. Irene Coslett, 24, wife of First Lieutenant Robert Coslett, fell wounded, shot in the left leg.  Later at Walter Reed Hospital, her condition was described as good.

Military authorities said the bullet which struck Mrs. Coslett probably had come from Private O'connor's rifle.


Alexandria, Virginia, April 30, 1949 – An Army Lieutenant’s wife struck by a stray bullet alleged to have been fired by a guard at the Unknown Soldier’s Tomb, is suing the United States for $100,000.

The petition, on file in Federal District Court here, says the bullet struck Mrs. Beulah Irene Coslett as she sat in her apartment at Arlington Farms last November.  The apartment is about 300 yards from the Tomb, in Arlington National Cemetery.

At the time, the Army said the guard fired two warning shots when someone passing nearby failed to obey his command to halt.  Officers said he was under orders to fire warning short in such circumstances.

Mrs. Coslett, wife of Lieutenant Robert T. Coslett, said in the suit that the bullet struck her below the left knee.  She complained of permanent injuries saying she has lost the use of her left foot.

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