The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

November 12, 2018

Crossing the Potomac River when leaving the city of Washington, D.C., one soon comes upon a rectangular block of marble on the brow of a hill overlooking Arlington Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia. Behind it stands Arlington Memorial Amphitheater.

This block is keeping eternal vigil over the heroes whose memory it will forever preserve. It is guarded by an armed sentry day and night. This is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Yes, he is unknown, to all but God. I do not know from whence he came. Was it a ranch house in Texas? A mining camp in Pennsylvania, or a pent-house apartment in New York? I do not know in what he believed. Was he a Jew, a Protestant, or a Roman Catholic?

How did he serve his country before he went to fight for it? Was he a writer? Was he a farmer’s son, or a college boy? I do not know.

But I do know why he is blessed with such reverence, and that means more to me than his name, his work, or even what he was doing when the missel came.

It is early morning, November 11, 1918. News of the armistice of World War I has just reached America’s shore from Europe.

The effect is tremendous. No event in all the nation’s history has ever brought such widespread rejoicing. All thoughts of work are put aside as people celebrate the victory. Chores are dropped, shops abandoned.

In country places and city streets, wildly excited people shout, “The War is over! The War is over!”

Whistles blow, bells ring, parades march through the streets.

But not all is shouting and laughter. There are those who pause to offer thanks to God for the peace that has come this day to the world.

And again, there are some sober faces, some eyes that fill with tears. For there are mothers in America who, while rejoicing, tenderly remember a boy who lies somewhere in France, a boy who will not come marching home again. These women know the price that must be paid for victory.

In 1918, on November 11, Armistice Day is set aside to commemorate the close of the war. A grateful nation honors its sons who gave all they could for their country.

Let us move on.

It is three years later, November 9th ,1921. From four of the numbers of unknown American dead who lie buried on the battlefields of France, the body of one soldier is chosen by Sergeant Younger -- his brother, another soldier -- for return to the United States.

On the vessel Olympia, which served in the War, the body of the Unknown Soldier is brought back to his native shores. In the mist and rain of this November 9th, the ship steams up the Potomac.

While thousands line the streets, the flag-draped coffin is taken to the Capitol. There under the great dome the Unknown Soldier lies in state. On Armistice Day, November 11, he is carried to his last resting place.

In beautiful Arlington Cemetery, among the nation’s honored dead, a white marble tomb has been made ready. On it are carved these words: “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”

There, in the long sleep of death, the Unknown Soldier lies. But in the hearts of the American people he lives, this man whose name I do not know – the greatest hero of the World War – perhaps the most expressive shrine of our democracy – the symbol of all the men who fought and died that justice might prevail.

And today, I cannot help but imagine a tiny, aged mother of one of the many, many unidentified dead, kneeling before the cherished tomb. I believe that she might be thinking, as she kneels there, that the Unknown Soldier is her son.

Anne Merkley has a masters degrees in Anthropology and Public Administration (ABD, and a Doctorate of Arts degree from ISU in Political Science. Anne has published a book titled A Paradigm Shift for Survival: Neo-Rationality and the Environment. The book is available on amazon.com.

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