Preparations to open the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery will begin on May 12, said John Metzler, Jr., the cemetery superintendent.
First, an 8-foot-high fence will be placed around the crypt site to preserve the sanctity of the area, he said.
The granite paving stones surrounding the crypt will be carefully removed, so that they can be replaced at a later date.
The top of the burial site, carved from marble, will be removed to reach the inner concrete crypt.
The lid of the crypt will be lifted up by a crane and the steel casket containing the remains will be removed, Metzler said. The casket will be placed on a cart for transport to a waiting hearse.
The process should take between 24 hours and 36 hours, he said.
“If all goes well,” a brief ceremony will be held when the flag-draped steel casket containing the remains are taken from the site for testing, Metzler said.
Defense Secretary William Cohen expects to attend the ceremony.
Following the disinterment, the remains will be taken under military escort to the Army Forces Institute of Pathology at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where a forensic examination will begin.
The tomb is dedicated to the nation's unidentified war dead. It is watched over 24 hours a day by a military honor guard.
The Vietnam remains are buried in a separate crypt between two other crypts containing World War II and Korean War unknowns. They are in a row, directly in front of a sarcophagus containing remains of a World War I unknown.
A senior Pentagon official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said two issues still remain to be addressed — whether the remains will be returned to the tomb if they are not identified, and if they are identified, whether another set of remains will be chosen to be placed in the tomb.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard