French join U.S. vets to mark 90th anniversary for Tomb of Unknowns
October 26, 2011
ARLINGTON, Va. (Army News Service, Oct. 26, 2011) -- Representatives of France today joined the 3rd U.S. Infantry and American military veterans in commemorating the 90th anniversary of the selection of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.
French officers and the deputy mayor of Chalons-en-Champagne, France, attended the ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns this morning at Arlington National Cemetery. Representatives from the Army Historical Foundation, American War Memorials Overseas and the American Legion also attended the ceremony to commemorate what happened at the selection of the Unknown Soldier in Chalons on Oct. 24, 1921.
U.S. Army Sgt. Edward F. Younger, who selected the unknown from four identical caskets at the city hall in Châlons, was also honored. The French and American delegation decorated his grave following the wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
Younger himself was wounded in combat during World War I and received the Distinguished Service Cross for valor.
Later today the French delegation plans to present the 3rd U.S. Infantry (Old Guard) with framed photographs of plaques mounted on the wall of the great hall of the city hall of Chalons-en-Chanpagne that mark selection of the Unknown Soldier and follow what happened with the casket from the time it left the city hall until it departed the train station in Chalons for the port of Le Havre.
The events at Arlington National Cemetery were witnessed by invited representatives of organizations present at the ceremonies in 1921: The armed forces of France, The U.S. Army, and the American Legion.
The story of the Unknown Soldier actually begins March 4, 1921, when the United States Congress approved the burial of an unidentified American serviceman from World War I in the plaza of the new Memorial Amphitheater.
On Memorial Day 1921, four unknown servicemen were exhumed from four World War I American cemeteries in France. Efforts over the summer concentrated on ensuring the unknowns were actually killed in combat and could not be identified. In October, four identical caskets were brought to the city hall in Châlons-en-Champagne. Younger selected one by placing a bouquet of white roses on the casket.
The World War I unknown lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda from his arrival in the United States until Armistice Day, 1921. On Nov. 11, 1921, President Warren G. Harding officiated ceremonies at the Memorial Amphitheater in Arlington National Cemetery.
During the ceremony, the World War I Unknown was awarded the Victoria Cross by Admiral of the Fleet Lord Beatty, on behalf of King George V of the United Kingdom. The unknown also received the U.S. Medal of Honor and several other foreign nations' highest service awards.
Later a white marble sarcophagus was placed at the head of the grave of the unknown. Years later, unknowns from World War II, Korea and Vietnam were interred at the site.
(The Pentagram newspaper at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va., contributed to this report.)