Arlington National Cemetery: Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Argonne Cross

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The best known memorial of World War I in the Washington area is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. Following World War I, many countries adopted the practice of burying the unidentified remains of one solider in a place of high honor. Congress approved the burial of an unidentified American soldier in 1921 in the plaza of the new Memorial Amphitheater.

On Memorial Day of that year, four caskets containing remains of unidentified soldiers were exhumed from American cemeteries in France and brought to the City Hall in Chalons-en-Champagne in northeast France. There, on October 21, Army Sergeant Edward Younger, a highly decorated combat veteran, selected the casket that would come to rest in Arlington.

The casket was transported back to the United States, and after lying in state at the Capitol, the unknown soldier was buried on November 11, 1921. Five years later, Congress authorized the marble structure we see today at the Tomb, which was ultimately completed in 1931. Since July 2, 1937, the Tomb has been under 24 hour guard by U.S. Army soldiers. Today, a special platoon of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment guards the Tomb.

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Sections 18, 19, 34 and the Argonne Cross

Because of the large number of American deaths overseas in World War I (approximately 116,000), the U.S. Government was faced with a critical decision in the immediate aftermath of the war: What would be done with the remains of America’s fallen soldiers? Would they be permanently interred in Europe or would the remains be brought back to the United States for burial?

Some believed it was best for the soldiers to be buried in Europe–among the comrades they fought with and in the countries they died defending. But ultimately, public sentiment favored giving the soldiers’ families the option of returning the remains to the United States.

Eventually, 46,000 remains were repatriated. Over 5,000 would be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, many in Sections 18 and 19. Also found in Section 18 is the Argonne Cross which commemorates the principal American offensive of World War I, the Meuse-Argonne Campaign.

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This was the largest offensive in U.S. military history, involving 1.2 million troops. It lasted 47 days beginning on September 26, 1918 and ending with the armistice on November 11.  The battle cost 26,277 American lives. The cross was erected in 1923 after many of the burials of World War I soldiers at Arlington.

gen-pershing-headstone_travel-objective-dcThe commander of the American Expeditionary Force, General of the Armies* John J. Pershing is also buried in Arlington, in adjoining Section 34 on a hill overlooking the men he commanded. A simple, government issued headstone marks his grave, alongside a spruce tree, placed in 1989 by the No Greater Love organization in memory of all Americans who died in World War I.

* Through much of its history, the highest rank in the U.S. Army, outside of the time of major wars, has been a two star major general. During World War I, Congress authorized the appointment of three star lieutenant generals and four star generals to be granted temporarily. John J. Pershing was promoted to general in October 1917. In 1919, by Congressional directive, the rank of General of the Armies was formally established and General Pershing became the first person to hold the rank.

 

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ROUTE RECON

Arlington National Cemetery is located in Virginia across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. The cemetery is at the end of Memorial Avenue, which extends west from the Lincoln Memorial, across the Memorial Bridge. Memorial Avenue intersects with the George Washington Memorial Parkway, just west of the Memorial Bridge. Arlington Cemetery is accessible from the major highways in the area such as Interstate 95, Interstate 395, the Capital Beltway (I-495), and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway (I-295). There is paid parking on site.

METRO: There is also a stop for Arlington National Cemetery along the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) Blue Line.

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