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Tomb of the Unknown Soldier opens to the public for centennial celebration


In honor of its centennial celebration, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier will be open for the public to pay their respects and lay flowers on the plaza for the first time in nearly 100 years. 

The Tomb has been blocked off to the public and guarded by a solider 24 hours a day since 1925 but it will reopen to the public for two days this week.

An unidentified coffin was sealed in the white marble tomb on November 11, 1921 to honor all U.S. service members whose remains have not been identified and has remained an a important national monument ever since. 

The Tomb’s plaza at the Arlington National Cemetery opened on Tuesday and will remain open on Wednesday in honor of its centennial commemoration.

Members of the public will be allowed to pay their respects and lay a flower at the Tomb between 9am and 4pm during the two-day ceremony. Visitors to the sacred memorial site, who were required to register online, will be required to provide a government-issued ID for entry. 

A tomb guard of the 3rd US Infantry Regiment, known as ‘The Old Guard,’ walks before a centennial commemoration event at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in Arlington National Cemetery

People place flowers during a centennial commemoration event at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in Arlington National Cemetery, in Arlington, Virginia

People place flowers during a centennial commemoration event at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in Arlington National Cemetery, in Arlington, Virginia

Members of the public pay their respects by placing flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia

Members of the public pay their respects by placing flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia

A woman places yellow and pink flowers among a colorful offering of bouquets at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia

A woman places yellow and pink flowers among a colorful offering of bouquets at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia

Two young girls take their turn laying flowers on the plaza at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia

Two young girls take their turn laying flowers on the plaza at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia

A young boy carrying a single white flower waits his turn to honor the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia

A young boy carrying a single white flower waits his turn to honor the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia

People pay their respects at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier near it's 100 year anniversary at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia

People pay their respects at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier near it’s 100 year anniversary at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia

Karen Durham-Aguilera, Executive Director of Arlington National Cemetery speaks in front of the Grand Staircase during a centennial commemoration event at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Karen Durham-Aguilera, Executive Director of Arlington National Cemetery speaks in front of the Grand Staircase during a centennial commemoration event at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Passes for both days of the event were sold out on Tuesday. 

The official centennial marker of the opening of the sacred Tomb comes on Thursday, November 11, 2021, the National Veterans Day Observance with an invite-only wreath laying ceremony. President Joe Biden is scheduled to attend the historic ceremony. 

The public is invited to observe a joint service full honors procession that will closely resemble the first ceremony opening the Tomb 100 years to the date along with a joint service flyover with aircraft from all branches of the armed forces. 

Karen Durham-Aguilera, the executive director of Army National Military Cemeteries and Arlington National Cemetery, said: ‘The next two days will truly be a historic and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,’ according to CNN

Opening the two-day flower ceremony Tuesday morning, members of Crow Nation were honored with being the first people to lay flowers atop the Tomb. They began the ceremony with a smudging ceremony and a prayer. 

The leader of Crow Nation laid a war bonnet and a coup stick on the coffin 100 years ago at the first ceremony opening the monument. 

The invitation to Native Americans was meant to recognize ‘the significant role of American Indians in the military during World War I, and the possibility that the Unknown Soldier could have been an American Indian,’ Allison Finkelstein, senior historian at Arlington National Cemetery, explained to the New York Times

An estimated 8,000 to 15,000 Native Americans served in the war, she said. 

The inclusion of Crow Nation’s Chief Plenty Coups in the 1921 ceremony was most likely the first time a Native American was featured on a national political stage broadcast to the nation in a way other than Wild West shows, Aaron Brien, the tribal historic preservation officer for the Crow Tribe, told the Times. 

A tomb guard of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as 'The Old Guard', walks in front of members of the Crow Nation during a centennial commemoration event at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

A tomb guard of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as ‘The Old Guard’, walks in front of members of the Crow Nation during a centennial commemoration event at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Members of the Crow Nation gather in front of the Grand Staircase during a centennial commemoration event in Arlington, Virginia

Members of the Crow Nation gather in front of the Grand Staircase during a centennial commemoration event in Arlington, Virginia 

Members of the Crow Nation perform in the Memorial Amphitheater during a centennial commemoration event at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Members of the Crow Nation perform in the Memorial Amphitheater during a centennial commemoration event at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Members of the Crow Nation performed a smudge ceremony and a prayer during a centennial commemoration event

Members of the Crow Nation performed a smudge ceremony and a prayer during a centennial commemoration event

Young members of the Crow Nation place flowers during a centennial commemoration event at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in Arlington National Cemetery

Young members of the Crow Nation place flowers during a centennial commemoration event at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in Arlington National Cemetery

Members of the Crow Nation line up to place flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to100 years of the monument honor

Members of the Crow Nation line up to place flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to100 years of the monument honor 

Since the first coffin from World War I was laid in the Tomb, two other unidentified coffins have been added from later wars. 

In August 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower approved the selection and interment of unidentified soldiers from both World War II and the Korea War. Both coffins arrived in Washington, D.C. on May 28, 1958 and lay in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda for two days before being moved placed in the Tomb. 

A fourth soldier, from the Vietnam War, laid in the Tomb for almost 14 years before being identified as Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie, a pilot who had been shot down in 1972. 

‘As you lay your flower, we at Arlington encourage you to reflect on the meaning of the Tomb. By the simple act of laying a flower, you are not only honoring the three unknowns buried here but all unknown or missing American service members who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our nation,’ Tim Frank, the Arlington National Cemetery’s historian, said during Tuesday’s ceremony, according to CNN. 

The sacred monument was originally opened to the public with no restrictions but the somber intention became overlooked by members of the public as the Tomb was treated as a public park. 

At times couples were found ‘getting excessively romantic on top of the tomb,’ Beth Bailey, a professor of history at the University of Kansas, told the New York Times. 

Their watch will never end : History of ‘The Old Guard’ Sentinels of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment 

The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment or ‘Old Guard’ is the oldest active-duty regiment in the U.S. Army, now best known for its ceremonial duties guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The regiment was formed in 1784 as the 1st American Regiment under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Josiah Harmar fighting in the Ohio frontier campaigns.

Currently serving as the Army’s official ceremonial unit, The Old Guard is assigned with escorting the president and providing security for Washington, D.C., during a national emergency or civil disturbance.

On April 6, 1948, The Old Guard assumed funeral support to Arlington National Cemetery, guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier 24 hours a day, and ceremonial support to the Military District of Washington.

There are six specialty platoons: Caisson Platoon, Continental Color Guard, Fife and Drum Corps, Presidential Salute, Battery, U.S. Army Drill Team, and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier 

The Tomb Guards work on three rotational shifts- 24 hours on, 24 hours off, 24 hours on, 24 hours off, 24 hours on, 96 hours off. 

On their time off, the Sentinel’s have to complete Physical Training, Tomb Guard training, haircuts, and get into their uniform (which takes an average of eight hours to prep) before their next shift. 

The average Sentinel is assigned to guard the Tomb for about 18 months, although there is no set time required for their service at the cemetery. 

The Tomb Guard Identification Badge (TGIB) is awarded after the Sentinel passes a series of tests to earn them the exclusive honor. The TGIB is permanently awarded after a Sentinel has completed nine months on tour at the Tomb. 

Over 600 have been awarded since its creation in the late 1950’s, averaging to 10 per year.  

U.S. Senator Tom Cotton, and his family, wait to place flowers during a centennial commemoration event at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

U.S. Senator Tom Cotton, and his family, wait to place flowers during a centennial commemoration event at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Cotton, an Army combat veteran, and his family stand after placing flowers during a centennial commemoration event at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Cotton, an Army combat veteran, and his family stand after placing flowers during a centennial commemoration event at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

A group of US Navy sailors hold flowers to be placed during a centennial commemoration event at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

A group of US Navy sailors hold flowers to be placed during a centennial commemoration event at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

People line up in the National Cemetery in Arlington to place flowers during a centennial commemoration event at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

People line up in the National Cemetery in Arlington to place flowers during a centennial commemoration event at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Members of the public stood in line Tuesday morning to pay their respects to unidentified soldiers killed in combat

Members of the public stood in line Tuesday morning to pay their respects to unidentified soldiers killed in combat

Since it was closed to the public in 1925, this week’s opening of the sacred monument ‘is a rare opportunity for the public to walk next to the Tomb—a privilege otherwise given only to the Sentinels of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, ‘The Old Guard,” according to the release from Arlington National Cemetery. 

Following the ceremony, members of the public and Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, an Army combat veteran, lined up to lay a flower at the Tomb. 

As the most iconic monument at Arlington National Cemetery, the white marble sarcophagus overlooking Washington D.C., has become the heart of the military graveyard which honors those who have served the nation. 

Arlington National Cemetery conducts between 27 and 30 funeral services each weekday and between six and eight services on Saturday, according to its site. 

Today, an estimated 400,000 veterans their eligible dependents are buried among the 624 acres of land.  



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