The Unknown Soldiers of World War II and the Korean War State Funeral

30 May 1958

Courtesy of the Department of the Army:

In June 1946 the 79th Congress passed a bill which became Public Law 429, sponsored by Congressman Charles M. Price, Democrat of Illinois, authorizing the burial in Arlington National Cemetery of the body of an unknown serviceman killed in World War II.

Not until 23 July 1948, however, did the Department of the Army issue orders calling for the selection of the unknown serviceman. By 15 March 1951, the body of one unidentified serviceman was to be chosen from each of the following: the European area, the Far East area, the Mediterranean zone, the Pacific area, and the former Africa-Middle East zone, now part of the Mediterranean zone. The bodies were to be brought to Washington, D.C., by 28 May 1951, when the President was to choose the unknown serviceman to be honored.

Changes were made in the orders over the next two years. It was decided that an unknown serviceman would also be brought from the Alaska Command. The unknown serviceman was not to be chosen in Washington, but at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The selection was to be made, not by the President, but by one of five representatives of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, each of whom had received the highest award of his service during World War II. The method of choosing the selector was to be decided by the five services and the selection ceremony was now scheduled for 26 May 1951. After the selection, the body of the chosen unknown serviceman was to be taken to Washington on 27 May, to lie in state in the Capitol through 29 May, and to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery on the morning of 30 May. All these plans were canceled upon the outbreak of hostilities in Korea in June 1950.

Interest in the project was revived after the Korean War. In August 1955, largely at the urging of various veterans' organizations, Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson asked the Department of the Army to proceed with plans to select an unknown serviceman of World War II. A year later, on 3 August 1956, the 84th Congress enacted Public Law 975, a measure also sponsored by Congressman Price of Illinois, authorizing the burial of an unknown serviceman of the Korean War in Arlington National Cemetery.

The Department of the Army drafted new, simplified plans for selecting the unknown servicemen of World War II and the Korean War. All services would participate. The Air Force was to choose one of the unknown war dead to represent the transpacific phase of World War II, and the Army was to choose one to represent the transatlantic phase. The Navy was to select one of these two and transport the body to Washington for burial. At the same time, the Navy was to bring one of the unknown dead of the Korean War, who was to be selected by the Army in Hawaii.

Secretary of Defense Wilson approved the Department of the Army plan on 31 December 1956 and directed that two of the unknown dead of World War II buried overseas be selected with appropriate ceremonies by 15 May 1958. The Commander in Chief, U.S. Army, Europe, was to select one from the European theater; the Commanding General, Far East Air Forces, one from the Pacific theater. A naval officer, to be designated by the Chief of Naval Operations, was to choose the World War II unknown serviceman from the two. All selections were to be made outside the United States, the Navy's part in the proceedings to take place at sea.

The Commanding General, U.S. Army, Pacific, was meanwhile to select in Hawaii an unknown serviceman of the Korean War. The Navy was to transport both of the dead servicemen to Washington by 27 May 1958. There the two were to lie in state until 30 May, when, after a joint funeral, both were to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery next to the Unknown Soldier of World War I.

The Quartermaster General of the Army, Major General Andrew T. McNamara, was designated co-ordinator and on 18 September 1957 he directed the commands involved to prepare detailed plans for selecting the unknown dead. Representatives of all the armed forces were to participate and ceremonies were to be simple and dignified.

The Commanding General, Military District of Washington, Major General John G. Van Houten, was charged with arranging the ceremonies in Washington. General Van Houten began his planning on 17 January 1957 for the ceremonies attending the arrival of the dead, the lying in state at the Capitol, the funeral procession and service, and burial at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He was assisted by a planning staff, eventually organized as the Interment of the Unknowns Working Group, which consisted of a liaison officer from each service including the Coast Guard in addition to officers of his own command. (Chart 1 )

By 15 August 1957 all sites for the various ceremonies had been chosen. One result of the planning was a determination that two crypts, rather than new tombs, would be prepared for the unknown dead. Construction of the crypts was to begin on 12 November 1957 and to be completed by 5 May 1958.

On 7 November 1957 a full draft plan had been completed and was circulating among the services for comment and concurrence. The plan was returned with a few comments from the Air Force; the other services approved without comment. By 16 January 1958 a second draft of the plan was published and sent to the White House, to all services, and to pertinent commands and staffs for final review and concurrence. This draft was approved with only minor modifications and on 12 May 1958 the final version was published.

While planning went on in Washington, the selection process began overseas. The bodies of thirteen unknown American servicemen who had fought in the transatlantic phase of World War II were exhumed at cemeteries in Europe and Africa and shipped in identical caskets to the U.S. cemetery at Epinal, France. On 12 May Major General Edward J. O'Neill, representing the Commander in Chief, U.S. Army, Europe, chose one of these; the others were reburied. The casket selected was flown to Naples, Italy, where it was transferred to the USS Blandy (DD-943), an Atlantic Fleet destroyer. The Blandy then left Naples to rendezvous with the missile cruiser USS Canberra (CAG-2) off the Virginia capes where the final choice of the unknown soldier of World War II was to be made.

In the selection of the serviceman from the Pacific theater, the bodies of two unknown Americans were taken from the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii and four were taken from the Fort McKinley American Cemetery and Memorial in the Philippines. The six caskets were then moved to Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, where on 16 May 1958 Colonel Glenn T. Eagleston, an Air Force officer, chose one. A day earlier, on 15 May, the bodies of four unknown Americans killed in the Korean War were removed from the National Cemetery of the Pacific, and Master Sergeant Ned Lyle of the Army chose the one to be honored as the unknown soldier of the Korean War. The two caskets selected were flown to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; the others were buried in Hawaii. In Cuba the caskets were placed aboard the USS Boston (CAG-I), which then sailed for the waters off the Virginia capes for the selection of the unknown soldier of World War II.

The Blandy, Canberra, and Boston rendezvoused off the Virginia capes on 26 May. First the casket of the unknown serviceman from the European theater of World War II was transferred from the Blandy to the Boston. The two World War II dead and the Korean War dead then were transferred from the Boston to the Canberra and taken to the Canberra's missile-handling room. Three morticians from Washington, D.C., removed the steel caskets from their shipping cases, took turns changing the positions of the caskets bearing the two World War II dead, and transferred the bodies of all three soldiers to bronze caskets in preparation for the selection ceremony.

To open the ceremony, the Canberra's band played Chopin's “Funeral March” as white-clad sailors wearing black armbands brought the caskets on deck. The Korean War serviceman was placed directly in front of Hospital Corpsman 1st Class William R. Charette, who had won the Medal of Honor during the Korean War, and who was to choose the unknown soldier of World War II. The caskets bearing the World War II dead were placed on either side of the casket of the Korean War soldier. After brief speeches by Navy officials, Charette marched to his left around the row of caskets, saluted, then lifted a floral wreath from a nearby stand, and marched back to face the caskets astern. After glancing left, he stepped to the right, placed the wreath at the casket to denote his selection, and saluted.

Following the selection ceremony, the caskets of the Korean War and World War II servicemen were transferred to the Blandy which, escorted by the USCG Ingham (WPG-35), sailed for the Naval Gun Factory in Washington, D.C. The World War II soldier not chosen was then prepared for burial at sea while the Canberra moved eight miles offshore to meet the requirements for deep sea burial. As the body was committed to the sea, the bugler sounded taps and eight marines fired three volleys. The bugler then blew release and the Canberra turned back toward shore.

Plans for the Washington rites meanwhile had been completed, and between 12 and 23 May every ceremony, including one in full dress, and every administrative function had been rehearsed at least twice. Some phases, such as traffic and parking control, were rehearsed four times. For the lying in state ceremony at the Capitol, the U.S. Capitol Architect had provided the Lincoln catafalque and a second catafalque, identical in dimensions and drapings, that had been built at Fort Myer under supervision of the Military District of Washington. The two crypts at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier also had been completed.

The Blandy arrived at the Naval Gun Factory at 1235 on 27 May. She was moored stern in, starboard side to the south edge of Pier 1. A special gangplank was installed and other ceremonial fittings were erected. The caskets of the two unknown servicemen, accompanied by a guard of honor, then were brought from below to the fantail ceremonial area in preparation for the reception ceremony the next day.

On 28 May troops and officials began to take stations for the ceremony at 0840. Aboard ship sailors manned the rail while officers and petty officers formed ranks aft. On Pier l the commander of troops placed military participants at parade rest, and the U.S. Navy Band played hymns as attending dignitaries, led by the Secretaries of Defense and the Treasury, took their places. The colors arrived next and were presented to the honor cordon, the assembled dignitaries, and the unknown soldiers. At 0925, as the Navy Band concluded the hymns, the body bearers, divided into two groups, each led by two chaplains, boarded the ship to remove the caskets. All troops saluted when the bearers were in position. The Navy Band sounded four ruffles and flourishes, then played hymns as the caskets were borne from the Blandy; the World War II unknown soldier was taken ashore first. The caskets were carried to hearses at the end of the pier and placed inside simultaneously. Following another salute, participating dignitaries entered their automobiles and the procession started toward the Capitol. A 21-gun salute was fired by a Navy battery as the procession departed.

The procession moved up Dahlgren Avenue to M Street, then by way of M Street and New Jersey Avenue to the East Plaza of the Capitol, entering from the south. The body bearers and national color details preceded the cortege to the Capitol under separate police escort in order to arrive in time to meet the procession.

At the Capitol participants in the ceremonies were in place by 0945. A joint honor cordon of all services formed a corridor up the east steps to the rotunda. The twelve body bearers waited at the bottom of the steps behind the color details as the U.S. Air Force Band drew up opposite them. Inside the rotunda, standing six deep in a semicircle around the south end were about 150 members of Congress, officials of executive departments, justices of the Supreme Court, members of the diplomatic corps, officials of the District of Columbia, the press, and a large group from the armed forces. The two catafalques were in the center of the rotunda.

The cortege arrived at 0944. After the members had left their cars and were in place to proceed up the steps to the rotunda, the honor guard presented arms, and the Air Force Band sounded four ruffles and flourishes before beginning a hymn.

As the hymn was played, the body bearers removed the caskets from the hearses and formed a column led by the clergy, with the unknown soldier of World War II to the front. The procession passed through the joint honor cordon at a slow cadence, and when it entered the rotunda divided to the right and left. The color details and body bearers made a semicircle to the rotunda's far side then turned back to the catafalques in the center of the hall. The clergy meanwhile took their positions at the foot of the biers. The caskets were then placed on the biers, the bearers were dismissed, and the first relief of the guard of honor was posted.

The honor guard comprised five reliefs and included troops from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard. Each relief had four enlisted sentinels, a noncommissioned or petty officer, and a commissioned officer. ( A relief stood a one-hour tour, its members alternating between the positions of attention and parade rest. Off-duty reliefs were billeted in a room directly beneath the rotunda.

Vice President Richard M. Nixon, as president of the Senate, was escorted by an Army officer to a position directly in front of the caskets. An enlisted man acting as one of the wreath bearers met him and assisted him in placing a wreath at the head of the biers. After they had withdrawn, Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn and the dean of the diplomatic corps, Dr. Guillermo Sevilla-Sacasa of Nicaragua, also placed wreaths. Shortly after the wreath-laying ceremony ended, the public was admitted to the rotunda.

The unknown dead lay in state from midmorning on 28 May to 1300 on 30 May. Tributes of flowers were accepted and arranged in the rotunda throughout this period. At 1200 on 29 May the caskets were switched so that the serviceman of the Korean War rested on the Lincoln catafalque. At the same time, the catafalques were moved so that the World War II soldier kept the senior position on the right. The public was admitted to the rotunda from 1000 until 1900 on 28 May and from 0800 on 29 May until 1200 on the 30th.

On 30 May in preparation for the procession, the caisson detail of the 3d Infantry left Fort Myer for the Capitol at 0730. At the same time, troops of the 3d Infantry moved into Arlington National Cemetery to prepare for traffic and parking control. Some 250 officers and men were to occupy fifty-one posts to cope with the 14,000 cars expected. The 400 officers and men of the regiment who were to man rope and security cordons also arrived early. Part of them formed a cordon around the Memorial Amphitheater to keep the ceremonial area clear and later to direct movement from the amphitheater to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The rest manned a rope cordon along Roosevelt Drive, the route of the procession. In all, troops manned about six miles of rope.

Twenty-four different kinds of parking stickers and seating tickets had been printed and distributed in order to allow guests to park and to be seated in the most expeditious manner. Since the cemetery lacked parking spaces for everyone, arrangements were made for shuttle buses to run between the Pentagon parking lots and the amphitheater. Of 3,000 seating tickets distributed, which approximated the capacity of the amphitheater, all went to members of Congress, the diplomatic corps, ranking military officials, press representatives, Medal of Honor holders, and veteran and patriotic groups. Both the Pentagon and the veteran's affairs adviser for the District of Columbia were besieged with requests for tickets from mothers or widows of men lost in the war—provisions had been made for mothers and widows during ceremonies for the Unknown Soldier of World War I —but all seats had been allocated.

Medical aid was available during all phases of the ceremonies. The Potomac River Naval Command provided medical facilities at the Naval Gun Factory. During the lying in state rites, the Congressional physician was available during his working hours, and at other times the Army provided medical care. For the ceremonies on 30 May, four aid stations were set up, each staffed by a medical officer, nurse, and attendant and each equipped with supplies and an ambulance. Anyone requiring hospitalization was to be evacuated to the George Washington University Hospital or to the U.S. Army Dispensary at Fort Myer medical attendants in sedans were to follow the procession to Arlington to pick up and treat anyone who became ill in the ranks of marchers. (As it turned out, some forty servicemen and women in the procession were overcome by the heat; others collapsed at the amphitheater, among them Supreme Court Justice Charles E. Whittaker. )

The General Services Administration had also provided five comfort stations in various buildings along the route of the procession, and the National Park Service had furnished two within buildings, three mobile stations along the route of march, and a station at the amphitheater.

Of the signal communications established, a radio net connected the Capitol and the amphitheater with net control at the Washington Monument grounds. Motor messengers were available at each radio station. Wire communications were established in four information booths at the cemetery and at the information desk in the rotunda of the Capitol.

Photographic coverage, both still and motion, was arranged. The Army covered all ceremonies except the arrival at the Naval Gun Factory, which was photographed by the Navy.

At midmorning on 30 May a saluting battery from Headquarters, Second U.S. Army, took station on the Washington Monument grounds where it was to fire a minute-gun salute during the procession and the ceremony at the cemetery. Escort units of the main procession began assembling along Delaware Avenue, N.E., just north of the Capitol, about noon; the groups that would move as part of the cortege from the Capitol were in place on the East Plaza by 1230. At 1259 the U.S. Naval School of Music Band sounded attention. At 1300 the body bearers took up the caskets and, with those carrying the unknown soldier of World War II leading, moved out of the rotunda. At the same moment, the saluting battery on the Washington Monument grounds began firing minute guns. The firing continued until the close of ceremonies at the cemetery except for a pause during two minutes of silence observed at the amphitheater. The cease-fire signal for the minute guns was the firing of the first round of the final 21-gun salute at the cemetery.

As the procession moved out of the rotunda, each casket was preceded by a color guard and two clergymen. Major General Patrick J. Ryan, the Army Chief of Chaplains, and Rear Admiral Edward B. Harp, the Navy Chief of Chaplains, walked ahead of the World War II unknown soldier and Major General Charles I. Carpenter, the Air Force Chief of Chaplains, and Lieutenant Colonel Philip Pincus, Air Force chaplain, ahead of the unknown soldier of the Korean War. The procession halted at the top of the steps while the U.S. Navy Band sounded four ruffles and flourishes and then began a hymn. During the hymn the procession descended the steps and the caskets were secured to the caissons.

Once the caskets were in place, the band stopped playing and the clergy entered automobiles in front of the caissons. The color details took post ten paces ahead of the clergy, while the body bearers stationed themselves three on each side of each caisson. The cortege then moved north from the plaza to join the escort of the procession on Constitution Avenue.

The full procession started toward the cemetery a few minutes after 1300 and moved via Constitution Avenue, 23d Street, Memorial Bridge, and Memorial Drive. Along the route was a joint honor cordon composed of Army, Navy, Marine, and Air Force troops. (Diagrams 25 and 26) When the procession arrived at the cemetery the caissons, which had been moving abreast, shifted into a column led by the caisson bearing the World War II Unknown Soldier. As the caissons entered the cemetery through Memorial Gate, twenty jet fighters and bombers passed overhead with one plane missing from each formation (a ceremonial feature used for the first time during the funeral for General Hoyt S. Vandenberg in 1954). The procession reached the west entrance of the Memorial Amphitheater at approximately 1440.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Vice President Nixon meanwhile had arrived from the White House but remained outside the amphitheater until dignitaries in the cortege had dismounted and taken seats. All others invited to attend the ceremony were already in their places. General Van Houten, commander of the Military District of Washington, escorted the Vice President to his seat, while Secretary of the Army Wilber M. Brucker escorted the President to his; both seats were in the apse. Members of the public were then allowed to fill any unoccupied spots.

After the audience was seated, the U.S. Army Band outside the amphitheater played four ruffles and flourishes, followed by a hymn. During the hymn the bearers removed the caskets from the caissons and, led as before by clergy and colors, carried them inside. The Unknown Soldier of World War II was borne through the south entrance and the Korean War Unknown Soldier through the entrance on the north. Just inside the amphitheater, each casket was set on a movable bier and wheeled around the colonnade to the apse, where the World War II Unknown Soldier was placed in front of President Eisenhower and the Korean War Unknown Soldier in front of Vice President Nixon. While the caskets were being brought to the apse, the U.S. Marine Band, seated in the amphitheater, played religious music. After the caskets were situated, the Marine Band played the national anthem.

The Army Chief of Chaplains, General Ryan, then delivered the invocation. At its conclusion a bugler sounded attention three times and a two-minute period of silence followed. The Army Chorus and the audience sang “America,” after which President Eisenhower arose and placed a Medal of Honor on each casket. The reading of scripture and singing to religious music followed. (Table 10) As the funeral service was brought to a close by the Marine Band's postlude, the Unknown Soldiers were taken to the amphitheater's Trophy Room. The Presidential party also withdrew to the Trophy Room, while the audience made its way to the plaza at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for the burial service.

The Unknown Soldiers were taken from the Trophy Room, in a procession that included the Presidential party, to the head of the plaza steps. There the procession halted while the Army Band sounded four ruffles and flourishes. After this salute the procession descended the steps, and the body bearers placed the caskets over the crypts. They then took hold of the flags that had draped the caskets and held them taut above the caskets.

Three chaplains, General Ryan, a Catholic; Admiral Harp, a Protestant; and Colonel Pincus, a Jew, each conducted the burial service of his faith. The saluting battery of the 3d Infantry then fired twenty-one guns. At the first round, the minute-gun battery on the Washington Monument grounds ceased firing. After the gun salute, a squad of eight from the 3d Infantry fired the tradftiona1 three volleys and, immediately afterward, a 3d Infantry bugler sounded taps. The body bearers then folded the flags and presented them to the President and Vice President, who in turn gave them to cemetery officials for safekeeping.

The presentation of the flags completed the burial service. After the participants had left the plaza, the public, guided by members of the 3d Infantry, filed by the crypts. Later in the evening, about 2100, cemetery superintendent John C. Metzler and his assistant, F. A. Lockwood, lowered the caskets. The body bearers stood behind a guide chain and saluted as the caskets sank into their crypts. This was the last rite in the ceremonies that throughout the day had involved some 4,800 members of the armed forces.

The final act, not part of any planned ceremony, took place on 2 June 1958. On that date, each crypt was filled with a concrete slab and topped with white marble. The marble tops bore only dates: 1941-1945 for the Unknown American of World War II, 1950-1953 for the Unknown American of the Korean War. At the same time, the dates 1917-1918 were carved in the pavement in front of the tomb of the Unknown Soldier of World War I.

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