By Staff Sgt. Doug RolesMay 14, 2014
CHALONS-EN-CHAMPAGNE, France (May 14, 2014) -- As the U.S. begins to commemorate the 150th year of Arlington National Cemetery, Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh thanked the people of Chalons-sur-Marne (now named Chalons-en-Champagne) for their town's part in repatriating America's Unknown Soldier to those hallowed grounds, nearly a century ago.
McHugh was joined by local officials, townspeople and French veterans in laying a wreath in the Chalons-en-Champagne town hall, where the final selection of the Unknown Soldier was made on Oct. 24, 1921. The Unknown Soldier is among the nation's most mourned servicemen, claimed by all grieving families.
"As the appointed stewards of Arlington National Cemetery, the United States Army will be forever grateful to the people of this wonderful city, who played such an important role in bringing home one of our fallen heroes, an American Soldier known but to God," McHugh said.
After World War I, a special quartermaster's team searched the records of American military cemeteries in Aisne-Marne, Meuse-Argonne, Somme and St. Mihiel to find unidentified Soldiers to ultimately create a pool of four possible "Unknowns." The remains of those four Soldiers were taken to the Chalons-sur-Marne town hall on Oct. 23. The next day a decorated and twice-wounded World War I Soldier, Sgt. Edward Younger, was chosen to go into the town hall and select one of the fallen.
"Since that day 93 years ago, that Soldier -- a brother of France -- has rested in white marble overlooking America's National Capitol. That memorial, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, serves as a powerful reminder of the cruelty of war, the sacrifices of those who fight them, and of how so many fought and died for their nation and for humanity -- for peace, victory and valor," McHugh said. "We mourn for the family, those who never knew what became of their husband or father or son. But we are hopeful that, thanks to the people of Chalons, they were comforted by the prospect that it may have been their loved one who came from this place on the final journey home, to be grieved, celebrated and remembered, not just by their family, but by a nation, and not just for days or months or years, but for all eternity."
After Younger made his selection, the townspeople turned out en masse to pay their respects before the fallen service member began the long trip home, via the U.S.S Olympia. The Soldier was interred in the tomb on Armistice Day Nov. 11, 1921.
Nearly 100 years later, residents of Chalons again crowded into the memorial site in the entry way of city hall. Those attending observed a moment of silence following the placing of the wreaths and the playing of the French and American nation anthems. One French veteran in attendance participated in the 1921 military service, when the Unknown Soldier's trip from Chalons to Arlington began.
"To the people of Chalons, today, on behalf of the United States Army, thank you from the bottom of our hearts, for continuing to preserve the memory of our Unknown Soldier, and for continuing to honor all those who did not make it home, who entrusted you and your country with their last dreams. Thanks to your friendship and affection, wherever they rest, they are, indeed, home."