The Unknown Soldier

Friday, November 12, 1999
Excerpts from “the first rough draft of history” as reported in The Washington Post on this date in the 20th century.

The bodies of many soldiers killed in World War I could not be identified. To honor them, the remains of one were brought to the U.S. Capitol to lie in state, and on Armistice Day 1921 they were ceremoniously buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The tomb bears the inscription “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.” Congress later directed that an “Unknown American” from subsequent wars — World War II, Korea and Vietnam — be similarly honored. Because of the development of DNA technology, the unknown soldier from the Vietnam War was recently exhumed and identified. There may never be another unknown soldier.

An excerpt from The Post of November 12, 1921:

By George Rothwell Brown

Wrapped in the brooding silences of eternity in the nation’s Valhalla, where the white marble temple to its war gods on the wooded hills of Arlington stands guard above the Capitol, the well-loved son of the republic sleeps at last shrouded in his immortality.

A hundred millions of people have called him “son,” and given to him a name that for all time to come in every heart shall be a synonym for sacrifice and loyalty.

In honoring him with solemn rite and ritual the mighty country for which he gladly gave his life touched a new and loftier height of majesty and dignity, as though the very government itself took on resplendent luster from  the simple nobility of its humble dead.

A vibrant note of hope and joy ran like the music of a silver bell through all of yesterday’s solemn services in the beautiful amphitheater of valor on the arbored crest of the radiant autumnal slopes, where the heads of his own and many foreign states, and a great multitude of his fellow countrymen, gathered to restore to earth the splendid product it had borne. The grief that filled each breast and dimmed each eye, the sorrow that bowed each
head in tribute to the nameless soldier who had died for his flag, unknown, unsung, 3,000 miles away from home, was tempered by a promise which was exalting and uplifting. Never before perhaps did hero have so wonderful a burial, so inspiring in its symbolism. Never had Americans found in such a symbolism such depths of spiritual meaning.

A tender beauty marked each passing moment of the day which saw the nation’s final tribute to its unknown boy, home from the strife and hell of war, back in the arms of those who loved him dearly. The President of the United States walked through the silent streets of the hushed city, in the early morning haze, content to be a simple private citizen at the bier of the man who in his haunting mystery, typifies the spirit of America’s dead.

The Unknown Soldier of World War I State Funeral

23 October-11 November 1921

Courtesy of the United States Army:

The idea of honoring the unknown dead of World War I originated in Europe. France and England first paid such honors on 11 November 1920, and Italy and other European nations soon followed.

The commanding general of American forces in France, Brigadier General William D. Connor, learned of the French project while it was still in the planning stage. Favorably impressed, he proposed a similar project for the United States to the Army Chief of Staff, General Peyton C. March, on 29 October 1919.

That General March disapproved General Connor’s proposal is suggested by the Chief of Staff’s later reply to Mrs. M. M. Melony, editor of the Delineator, who made a similar suggestion. General March explained to Mrs. Melony that while the French and English had many unknown dead, it appeared possible that the Army Graves Registration Service eventually would identify all American dead. Furthermore, the United States had no burial place for a fallen hero similar to Westminster Abbey or the Arc de Triomphe. In any case, March pointed out, the matter was one for Congress to decide.

On 21 December 1920, Congressman Hamilton Fish, Jr., of New York introduced a resolution calling for the return to the United States of an unknown American soldier killed in France and his burial with appropriate ceremonies in a tomb to be constructed at the Memorial Amphitheater in Arlington National Cemetery. The measure was approved on 4 March 1921 as Public Resolution 67 of the 66th Congress. It included a provision for the construction of the tomb of the unknown soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. As then established, the tomb was to be a simple structure that eventually would serve as the base for an appropriate monument. (It was not until 3 July 1926 that Congress appropriated $50,000 to complete the tomb. The design and a further appropriation were approved on 21 December 1929 and a contract for the work was entered upon. Meanwhile, on 29 February 1929, Congress had granted money for improving the landscape and approaches to the tomb.)

Congressman Fish wanted the burial ceremony for the unknown soldier to be held on Memorial Day, 1921, but on 12 February, while the bill was still before the Senate Committee on Military Affairs, Secretary of War Newton D. Baker informed the committee that the date was premature. He had been advised by the Quartermaster General, who would be in charge of selecting and preparing the body of the unknown soldier, that only 1,237 American dead were still unidentified and that the cases of almost all of these were being investigated. Haste, the Quartermaster General had pointed out, could result in the burial of a body which might later be identified.

Congressman Fish tried again through the new Secretary of War, John W. Weeks, who replaced Baker on 4 March 1921 when President Warren G. Harding took office, to arrange the ceremony, this time for 31 May. But Secretary Weeks upheld Baker’s earlier view for the same reasons and chose Armistice Day, 1921, the third anniversary of the war’s end, as the appropriate time to conduct the services. In response to this choice, Congress, on 20 October 1921, declared 11 November 1921 a legal holiday to honor all those who participated in World War I; an elaborate ceremony in Washington would pay tribute to the symbolic unknown soldier.

The War Department had charge of ceremonies both overseas and in the United States. Plans for overseas included ceremonies attending the choice of an unknown soldier and the transfer of his body to the Navy for transportation to the United States. In the United States, arrangements were made for receiving the unknown soldier from the Navy at Washington, D.C., for a lying in state ceremony in the Capitol, and for funeral and burial services at Arlington National Cemetery.

On 9 September 1921 the Quartermaster General received orders from the War Department to select an unknown soldier from those buried in France. Following the selection ceremony, he was to deliver the body to Le Havre, where the Navy would receive it for transportation to the United States. The necessary arrangements were completed by the Quartermaster Corps in France in co-operation with French and U.S. Navy authorities. According to plans, the selection ceremony was to take place at Chalons-sur-Marne, ninety miles east of Paris, on 23 October 1921.

After a final search of the records of unknown dead for any evidence of identity, special Quartermaster Corps teams chose four bodies to be exhumed as possible recipients of the honors. Four others were selected as alternates should the exhumation of any of the first four reveal evidence of identity.

The body of an unidentified American was exhumed from each of four American cemeteries — Aisne-Maine, Meuse-Argonne, Somme, and St. Mihiel — on 22 October 1921. Each was examined to ensure that the person had been a member of the American Expeditionary Forces, that he had died of wounds received in combat, and that there were no clues to his identity whatsoever. After mortuary preparation, the bodies were placed in identical caskets and shipping cases. The next day they were carried by truck to Chalons-sur-Marne for the selection ceremony.

At 1500 on 23 October all four caskets arrived by truck at the city hall of Chalons-sur-Marne. Awaiting them was a large delegation of French and American officials. The American group was headed by the Quartermaster General, Major General Harry L. Rogers, and included Colonel Harry F. Rethers, the chief of the American Graves Registration Service in Europe; Lieutenant Colonel William G. Ball, Quartermaster Corps; Major Robert P. Harbold, also of the Quartermaster Corps, who was the officer in charge and controlled all ceremonies; Captain E. Le Roch, a liaison officer from the French Army; Mr. Keating, the chief supervising embalmer; and representatives of the press. The chief French representatives were General Duport, commanding the French 6th Army Corps; M. Brisac, Prefet de la Marne; and M. Servas, Maire de Chalons-sur-Marne.

Members of the American Quartermaster Corps and town officials had prepared the city hall for the selection ceremony. The outside of the building was decorated with French and American flags; inside, the aisles and corridors were ornamented with palms, potted trees, and flags, and a catafalque had been constructed and set up in the main hall. Another room was decorated for the reception of the four unknown soldiers and a third was prepared for the ceremony in which the chosen unknown soldier was to be transferred to a different casket.

French troops carried the shipping cases from the trucks into the reception room of the city hall. The caskets were then removed, set on top of the cases, and draped with American flags. A French guard of honor stood watch until 2200 when six American pallbearers arrived from Headquarters, American Forces in Germany, at Coblenz. From this time on, a combined American-French guard maintained constant vigil.

Early on the morning of 24 October Major Harbold, aided by French and American soldiers, rearranged the caskets so that each rested on a shipping case other than the one in which it had arrived. There was now little chance that someone would know even the cemetery from which an unidentified body came. Major Harbold then chose Sergeant Edward F. Younger of Headquarters Company, 2d Battalion, 50th Infantry, American Forces in Germany, to select the unknown soldier. Originally, a commissioned officer was to do the choosing, but General Rogers changed the plans after learning that the French had designated an enlisted man to choose their unknown soldier. The choice was delegated to Major Harbold, who then appointed Sergeant Younger.

Before the selection a French military band formed in the city hall courtyard adjoining the reception room. The ceremony began as General Duport led French and American officers and French civil Officials to the entrance of the reception room, where they rendered honors to the dead. They then lined the hallway leading to the room.

After General Duport and General Rogers made brief speeches Sergeant Younger led the way from the main hall, carrying a spray of white roses presented by a Frenchman who had lost two sons in the war. As the French band in the courtyard played a hymn, Younger walked around the caskets several times before placing the roses on one to indicate his selection. He then saluted the chosen unknown American, after which the officials in the hallway, led by General Duport, came forward to present their respects. (The roses that had been placed on the casket remained there and were buried with the unknown American in Arlington. )

Following this ceremony the pallbearers, all Army noncommissioned officers from American units in Germany, moved the casket to the second room where Mr. Keating, in the presence of General Rogers, Colonel Rethers, Colonel Ball, and Major Harbold, transferred the body to a special casket brought from the United States. This casket was then sealed. The empty casket was returned to the reception room, where one of the three remaining bodies was placed in it so that the casket could not be identified. The caskets of the three remaining unknown Americans were then placed in shipping cases and at 1100 were put aboard trucks that took them to Romagne Cemetery, 152 miles east of Paris, for immediate burial.

The casket of the nameless American who was to be honored in the United States as the Unknown Soldier of World War I was draped with an American flag and carried in procession to the catafalque in the main hall. The spray of roses lay on top of the casket and floral tributes were banked around it. An honor guard of six French and five American soldiers and a uniformed representative of the American Legion took post. After the press had been admitted to photograph the catafalque, the room was opened to the public.

According to plans, the Unknown Soldier was to be carried in procession through Chalons-sur-Marne to the railroad station. The casket was then to be put aboard a special funeral train provided by the French government and taken via Paris to Le Havre. The procession through Chalons-sur-Marne was to follow the Rue de Marne, which stretched for almost a mile directly from the city hall entrance to the railroad station. An honor cordon of dismounted French cavalry lined both sides of the route. The military escort of French Army units included a band, a regiment of dragoons, a regiment of infantry, two field artillery battalions, and a motor transportation company. The single American Army unit was from the Quartermaster Corps. Also in the escort were French Boy Scouts, firemen, war veterans, representatives of local societies, and students.

The departure ceremony opened late in the afternoon of 24 October with speeches by the mayor of Chalons-sur-Marne and by Major General Henry T. Allen, who came especially for the occasion from Germany where he commanded American forces. The American body bearers then carried the casket of the Unknown Soldier out of the city hall. While the French military band played “Aux Champs” and the escort troops presented arms, the body bearers placed the casket on a caisson. Boy Scouts picked up the flowers that had surrounded the catafalque and took positions near the caisson. After General Allen, General Rogers, Colonel Rethers, General Duport, and other officials joined the cortege, the procession moved to the railroad station at the slow cadence of funeral marches played by the band.

At the station the band played the American national anthem while the body bearers transferred the Unknown Soldier from the caisson to the funeral car of the special train. The train left Chalons-sur-Marne at 1810 and arrived in Paris three hours later, where it remained overnight. Posted as a guard of honor during the night were three American soldiers and a uniformed representative of the American Legion.

On 25 October, after French officials and representatives of patriotic societies had paid their respects and left tributes to the Unknown Soldier, the special train left Paris at midmorning and reached Le Havre about 1300. On hand to escort the Unknown Soldier to the docks were representatives of the French and American governments, an American Army honor guard, a large contingent of French Army troops, a French Army band, a detachment of French sailors, representatives of various French societies and associations, and mounted gendarmes. Thirty French soldiers removed the floral pieces from the train and took position in the column for the procession to the docks. The American body bearers then carried the casket from the funeral car and placed it on a waiting caisson while the band played “Aux Champs” and French school children showered the caisson with flowers. The procession then started for the Pier d’Escale where the cruiser USS Olympia, Admiral Dewey’s old flagship, waited to take the Unknown Soldier to the United States. En route via the Boulevard Strassbourg, the procession stopped briefly at the city hall where members of the city council presented a wreath to the Unknown Soldier.

At the pier, after speeches by American and French officials and the presentation of the Croix de chevalier de la Legion d’honneur to the Unknown Soldier by M. Maginot, the Minister of Pensions who later inspired the Maginot Line, the body bearers carried the casket to the Olympia. A group of American Marines on the dock presented arms, and the cruiser’s band played the French and American national anthems and Chopin’s “Funeral March” as six sailors and two marines relieved the Army body bearers and carried the casket aboard ship. Rear Adm. Lloyd H. Chandler, commanding the Olympia, members of his staff, and French and American officials marched behind the casket as it was taken to the stern, which had been decorated. Tributes of flowers, some brought aboard by French school children, were placed around the casket.

The Olympia, escorted by the American destroyer Rueben James (DD-245 —later the first American warship to be sunk in World War II ) and eight French naval vessels, put out to sea at 1520. She received a 17-gun salute as she cleared harbor and another as the French ships dropped astern just outside French territory.

Brigadier General Harry H. Bandholtz, commanding the Military District of Washington, was responsible for planning the ceremonies in the United States. On 19 October he published plans for the reception of the Unknown Soldier’s body from the Navy at the Washington Navy Yard; its movement in procession to the Capitol on 9 November; the lying in state period in the rotunda, ending 10 November; and the procession to Arlington National Cemetery, funeral service in the Memorial Amphitheater, and burial service at the newly constructed tomb on 11 November.

On a rainy 9 November the Olympia sailed up the Potomac River, receiving and returning salutes from military posts along the way, and docked at the Washington Navy Yard about 1600. On hand to receive the body of the Unknown Soldier were General Bandholtz, who was the escort commander; the 3d Cavalry and its mounted band from Fort Myer, Virginia; and military and civil officials, including the Army Chief of Staff, General of the Armies John J. Pershing, Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Robert E. Coontz, Commandant of the Marine Corps, Major General John A. Lejeune, Secretary of War John Weeks, and Secretary of Navy Edwin Denby.

When the Olympia docked, the two squadrons of the 3d Cavalry were already in line facing the cruiser from the far side of the dock area. To the left of these squadrons, at a right angle to their line, was the mounted band. After members of the ship’s crew installed the gangplank, the ship’s complement of marines and the band marched off and formed a line at the near edge of the pier facing the cavalry squadrons. The military and civil dignitaries next aligned themselves at the right of the cavalrymen and opposite the mounted band, thus completing a box formation.

After Navy buglers aboard the Olympia sounded attention, a body bearer detail of marines and sailors from the ship’s company carried the casket to the gangplank. Simultaneously, the cruiser commenced firing minute guns and the ship’s band began to play Chopin’s “Funeral March.”

As the casket was carried through the railings, the boatswain piped the Unknown Soldier ashore in the fashion accorded a full admiral. Admiral Chandler and his staff in full dress, bareheaded and hats held against their chests, followed the casket. On the dock the civil dignitaries removed their hats as the troops saluted. When the Navy procession cleared the foot of the gangplank, it halted and the boatswain sounded his pipe to signify that the party had left the ship. The ship’s band then ceased playing the funeral march, a marine bugler sounded four flourishes, and the ship’s band played the national anthem.

At the close of the anthem, the Olympia’s band resumed the funeral march while the procession moved through the box formation to a draped caisson standing between the two squadrons of cavalry at the far side. The reception ceremony ended as eight Army body bearers from the 3d Cavalry took the casket from the ship’s detail and placed it on the caisson.

The cavalry band, playing “Onward Christian Soldiers,” led the procession to the Capitol. Following in order were a squadron of cavalry, the caisson, the remaining cavalry squadron, and the military and civil dignitaries in their automobiles. The route taken by the column through the Washington Navy Yard to the gate was lined on both sides by marines at present arms. Once outside the yard, the procession moved via M Street and New Jersey Avenue to the East Plaza of the Capitol.

At the Capitol the 3d Cavalry formed a line facing the building with a squadron on either side of the plaza driveway at the foot of the east steps. Along each side of the driveway and the steps was an honor cordon of troops from the 13th Engineers, commanded by Major Charles P. Gross from Camp Humphreys (later Fort Belvoir), Virginia. Inside the rotunda four honor guards, also from the 13th Engineers, were already posted at the corners of the Lincoln catafalque on which the casket of the Unknown Soldier would rest. In addition to the members of the 13th Engineers who served as honor guards through the night of 9 November, Major Gross had under his command details of one noncommissioned officer and four men each from Army aviation, field artillery, coast artillery, and infantry, and from the Navy, Marine Corps, and District of Columbia National Guard. These details acted as reliefs for the guards at the bier on 10 November. Some 250 marines also joined Major Gross on 10 November for duty outside the building to help control the movement of the public into the Capitol to pay respect.

The horse-drawn caisson stopped before the Capitol steps and the Army body bearers removed the casket, carried it past the honor cordon and into the rotunda, and placed it on the Lincoln catafalque, with the foot of the casket to the west. Walking behind the casket were the military and civil officials who had accompanied the body from the Navy Yard.

Shortly thereafter, President Warren G. Harding and Mrs. Harding walked up the east steps through the honor cordon and entered the rotunda. Mrs. Harding placed a wide white band of ribbon, which she had made herself, on the casket. President Harding then stepped forward, pinned a silver National Shield with forty-eight gold stars to the ribbon, and placed a great wreath of crimson roses on the casket. Vice President Calvin Coolidge and Speaker of the House Frederick H. Gillette next advanced together followed by Chief Justice William H. Taft, Secretary Weeks, and Secretary Denby, in that order, and placed wreaths for the Congress, Supreme Court, Army, and Navy, respectively. After these presentations other officials, including General Pershing, made floral offerings. The assembled dignitaries then filed out of the rotunda leaving the guard of honor to maintain a vigil through the night.

In preparation for receiving the public on 10 November, Capitol employees on the evening of the 9th roped off areas in the rotunda which would channel the crowds as they entered from the east, moved past the bier, and continued out the west door. Also at that time the casket was turned around so that its foot was to the east. With this change the body bearers would not have to maneuver for correct position when taking the Unknown Soldier from the rotunda on 11 November but could carry the casket straight out the east door.

The public was admitted to the rotunda at 0800 on 10 November. Delegations of various patriotic and fraternal organizations were among the lines of people passing the bier four abreast. Having received permission to conduct brief services, some organizations assembled on the steps of the Senate wing, entered the rotunda through the north entrance, and, after placing wreaths and conducting their rites, filed out with the public through the west door. Many foreign diplomatic delegations also arrived to offer their respects and leave floral tributes. Because the lines were still long at 2200, the scheduled hour of closing, the rotunda was kept open until midnight. By that hour some 90,000 persons had passed the bier.

The funeral procession was scheduled to leave the Capitol at 0830 on 11 November. Well before that time the military escort and the dignitaries who would march in the procession formed on the East Plaza. All other participating groups assembled on side streets near either the Capitol grounds or Pennsylvania Avenue where they could join the cortege at the proper point. Army and Navy troops meanwhile formed an honor cordon on the east steps of the Capitol.

Of eight body bearers selected to handle the casket, five were Army noncommissioned officers, two were Navy petty officers, and one was a Marine Corps noncommissioned officer. Nine general officers and three flag officers, all of whom had served in World War I, had been appointed as honorary pallbearers. At 0800 the body bearers, followed by the honorary pallbearers, carried the casket of the Unknown Soldier from the rotunda and down the east steps to the caisson. While the U.S. Army Band on the plaza played a dirge, the military units stood at present arms. At the same time a field artillery battery brought in from Camp Meade, Maryland, and positioned on the Capitol Mall near the Washington Monument began firing minute guns. Except for a scheduled pause at noon to observe a twominute period of silence during the funeral service, the battery continued to fire a round each minute until the end of all ceremonies. At the foot of the east steps of the Capitol four body bearers, flanked on the outside by six honorary pallbearers, took station on each side of the caisson as General Bandholtz, the escort commander, led the way toward Pennsylvania Avenue for the march to Arlington National Cemetery.

Behind General Bandholtz and his staff of three, all mounted, were a band, a drum corps, a composite foot regiment (in a column of battalions), a mounted field artillery battalion, and a squadron of cavalry, in that order.

Leading the long cortege behind the military escort were four clergymen, two of them active chaplains and two retired. At their head was the Right Reverend Charles H. Brent, who had been the Senior Chaplain of the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I and who was in charge of the religious rites of the funeral ceremony. The clergy and all other members of the cortege were on foot except former President Woodrow Wilson who was ill and rode in a carriage.

The caisson was next in column followed by the President with the Army Chief of Staff at his left, the Vice President with the Chief of Naval Operations at his left, and the Chief Justice of the United States with the Commandant of the Coast Guard at his left. Originally, former President Wilson was to have followed the Chief Justice, but he entered the procession late and therefore joined the column farther back. Instead, the remaining members of the Supreme Court came after the Chief Justice and were followed by members of the cabinet, state governors, and members of the Senate and House of Representatives, in that order.

To help maintain the quick-time cadence at which the procession was to move, a section of the Army Drum Corps was next in column. Behind the drums marched soldiers who had received the Medal of Honor. All holders of this highest military award had been invited to participate, but only those who had won it in World War I were invited at government expense. The medal of honor winners marched eight abreast, ranging from front to rear according to the dates of their medals, those holding the oldest medals leading. It was behind this honored group that the carriage bearing former President Wilson joined the procession.

A group composed of an officer and an enlisted man from each arm and service of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard followed the former President, also marching eight abreast, according to rank from front to rear. Behind this formation were 132 state and territorial representatives of the troops who had served in World War I. Each state and territory had been invited to send not more than three men, to be selected by the governor. Those participating marched eight abreast, arranged alphabetically according to state from front to rear.

The remaining contingents consisted of representative groups of forty-four patriotic, fraternal, and welfare organizations. Following one another in no particular order, each group marched in a column of eight with one representative leading.

The procession moved along Pennsylvania Avenue to 15th Street, on 15th Street to Pennsy1\ ania Avenue again, past the White House to M Street, then on M Street to Aqueduct Bridge, which was slightly upstream from the present Francis Scott Key Bridge. When the column reached the White House, it stopped briefly while President Harding, Vice President Coolidge, Chief Justice Taft and the other justices of the Supreme Court, and members of the cabinet, Senate, and House of Representatives left the procession to travel by car to Arlington National Cemetery. They took a separate route via Highway Bridge at 14th Street and entered the cemetery through Treasury Gate. President Harding was almost late for the cemetery ceremonies; his car was caught in a tight traffic jam, and only by cutting across an open field was he able to arrive on time.

The main procession marched to Aqueduct Bridge, where the clergy dropped out and continued by car to the cemetery. The U.S. Army Band also left the procession at the bridge and was replaced for the remainder of the march by the U.S. Marine Band. Upon reaching the cemetery’s Arlington (Fort Myer) Gate, the cavalry squadron, field artillery battalion (less one firing battery), and machine gun company of the infantry battalion left the column and paraded on a drill ground facing the cemetery. As the Marine Band played a funeral march, the rest of the procession moved through the cemetery to the west entrance of the Memorial Amphitheater, reaching it about 1140, three hours after leaving the Capitol.

The military escort, except for the artillery battery, drew up on line facing the amphitheater, presented arms, and held the salute while the caisson was brought to the entrance and the casket was carried to the apse inside the amphitheater.

The band, which had played while the casket was borne to the apse, then entered the amphitheater and was seated in the right colonnade. The artillery unit, Battery E of the 3d Field Artillery, meanwhile moved to a position north of the amphitheater in preparation for firing the gun salutes. After the entrance ceremony, the other units of the escort re-formed in preparation for leaving the cemetery via the McClellan Gate at the conclusion of the burial service. The escort was to depart immediately after President Harding left the cemetery.

Over 5,000 tickets had been distributed by the office of The Adjutant General for admission to the Memorial Amphitheater. (Since the number of tickets exceeded the seating capacity of the amphitheater, it is apparent that not all persons invited were expected to attend.) All participating in the procession were given tickets except the patriotic, fraternal, and welfare organizations, which received tickets only for selected delegates. Participants who held tickets entered the amphitheater after the body of the Unknown Soldier had been taken to the apse; the remainder joined the public standing behind ropes outside.

All others attending were seated when the President arrived about 1155, and the ceremony began as soon as he had taken his place in the apse. The Marine Band opened the ceremony with the national anthem which was followed by the invocation, delivered by the Army Chief of Chaplains, Col. John T. Axton. After a bugler sounded attention three times, the assemblage observed a two-minute period of silence.

At the conclusion of the period of silence the audience, accompanied by the band, sang “America.” President Harding then delivered an address, paying tribute to the Unknown Soldier and pleading for an end to war. After a hymn sung by a quartet from the Metropolitan Opera Company, the President placed upon the casket of the Unknown Soldier the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross. High-ranking representatives of other countries also presented decorations of high order, some of which never before had been given to a foreigner. Hymns and scriptural readings followed, and to conclude the service the audience sang “Nearer My God to Thee.”

In preparation for the burial service, the Marine Band moved out of the amphitheater to a position near the tomb. The band played “Our Honored Dead” as the casket, preceded by the clergy, was moved in procession from the apse and placed in the tomb. During this transfer the Army body bearers again were flanked by the honorary pallbearers. Following the casket were President and Mrs. Harding; Vice President and Mrs. Coolidge; Mrs. R. Emmett Digney, who was the president of the American National War Mothers, and who had lost a son in the war; and Mrs. Julia McCudden, who represented the British War Mothers, and who had lost three sons. Heads of foreign delegations were next in procession; behind them were the Secretaries of State, War, and Navy, and military officials, both American and foreign. The band played “Lead Kindly Light” as the rest of the audience moved from the amphitheater to the area around the tomb.

Bishop Brent read the burial service. Congressman Fish, who had introduced the legislation leading to the honors being paid the Unknown Soldier, next came forward and laid a wreath at the tomb. Among the many others who then offered tribute was Chief Plenty Coups, Chief of the Crow Nation. Representing all American Indians, he laid his war bonnet and coup stick at the tomb.

The saluting battery then fired three salvos as the casket was lowered into the crypt, the bottom of which had been covered with a layer of soil from France. The bugler sounded taps, and after the last note the battery fired twenty-one guns in final salute to the Unknown Soldier of World War I.


  • The Grand Army of the Republic
  • Confederate Veterans
  • Distinguished Service Order
  • The American Legion
  • National War Mothers (including Gold Star Mothers)
  • Veterans of Foreign Wars
  • Military Order of Foreign Wars
  • Military Order of the World War
  • Indian War Veterans Association
  • Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the U.S.A.
  • Spanish-American War Veterans
  • Naval and Military Order of the Spanish-American War
  • Imperial Order of the Dragon
  • Navy League of the U.S.
  • National Association of Naval Veterans
  • Society of World War Veterans, Inc.
  • Jewish Veterans of the World War
  • Military Training Camps Association
  • World War Veterans (Northwest)
  • Colored Veterans of the War
  • Grand Army of Americans
  • Divisional Societies (in numerical order of divisions)
  • Red Cross
  • Salvation Army
  • Young Men’s Christian Association
  • Knights of Columbus
  • Jewish Welfare Board
  • American Library Association
  • Overseas Service League
  • Red Cross Overseas Service League
  • Overseas League, Young Men’s Christian Association Women Workers
  • National Catholic War Council
  • American Women’s Legion
  • American Defense Society, Inc.
  • Rotary Club
  • Society of Cincinnati
  • Daughters of Cincinnati
  • Sons of the Revolution
  • Daughters of the American Revolution
  • Sons of American Revolution
  • Children of the American Revolution
  • Daughters of 1812
  • Ladies Auxiliary, Veterans of Foreign Wars
  • Georgetown Cadets

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