10 November 2020: At precisely 1100 hours on the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, a cease fire armistice was signed which ended the hostilities that had ravaged Europe for four and half years (since July 1914). While the Treaty (of Versailles) was not signed until July of 1919 (exactly 5 years following the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand), the armistice was the event celebrated with what was first called Armistice Day. Originally designated to honor the veterans of WWI, in 1954, President Eisenhower had the name changed to Veterans Day and declared it would honor all vets. However, prior to that change, in 1921, it was decided that there should be a suitable memorial to those who fell in the war. An unidentified soldier was brought home to the US from a battlefield cemetery in France and became the symbol for all the fallen in America's wars. From the American Military News, the following:
On Nov. 9, 1921, the body of the U.S. soldier that now rests in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier returned to the U.S. from France, where he died in the fighting of World War I.
According to Arlington National Cemetery, the Unknown Soldier’s remains were brought to Washington D.C. and were brought to the Washington Naval Yard aboard the U.S. Navy’s USS Olympia.
According to the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command, the USS Olympia set sail on Oct. 3 and arrived in France on Oct. 24 of 1921. That day, U.S. Army Sgt. Edward F. Younger was tasked with selecting one of four unidentified American servicemen, in four identical caskets, to become America’s Unknown Soldier, meant to represent all of America’s unidentified war dead. Younger, himself a twice-wounded veteran of World War I, chose the third casket from the left of the row of four caskets, laying a bouquet of white roses on that soldier’s casket and designating them the Unknown Soldier.
On Oct. 25, the remains of the Unknown Soldier was brought to Pier d’Escale in Le Havre, where people from across France had gathered to pay their respects to the soldier. The crew of the USS Olympia had meticulously cleaned the ship from top to bottom, in preparation for the arrival of the Unknown Soldier.
As the soldier was brought aboard the USS Olympia, a ship’s band played a rendition of the French National anthem “La Marseillaise,” which segued into the “The Star-Spangled Banner.” After the Unknown Soldier’s casket was secured to the deck of the ship, crowds of clergy, school children, war widows, and French civic organizations came aboard the ship and showered the flag-draped casket with flowers. The Unknown Soldier had also been awarded the National Order of the Legion of Honor, the highest French order for military and civil merit.
Following his arrival in the U.S., the Unknown Soldier was brought to lay in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, where he was kept from Nov. 9 to Nov. 11, according to the Architect of Congress.
According to Arlington National Cemetery, around 90,000 visitors lined up to pay their respects to the Unknown Soldier as his body was kept in the Capitol Rotunda.
The Unknown Soldier was interred in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia on Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1921. During the Armistice Day ceremony, the Unknown Soldier was awarded the Victoria Cross, the United Kingdom’s highest military honor, by Admiral of the Fleet Lord Beatty, on behalf of King George V, according to U.K. government records.
Armistice Day would later come to be celebrated in the U.S. as Veterans Day.
The tradition of honoring subsequent Unknown Soldiers has continued, with the U.S. honoring selecting two Unknown Soldiers of World War II, one from the European and one from Pacific theater of war, and another U.S. service member from the Korean War. An Unknown Soldier was designated for the Vietnam War, but was later exhumed and positively identified as 1st Lt. Michael Blassie, according to U.S. government records. Blassie’s remains were returned to his family. [ED: Blassie's body was subsequently replaced by another to rest in the Tomb of the Unknown]
So, with tomorrow being the day we honor our vets, remember also those who fell, both known and unknown. It is their sacrifice that kept the rest of the world safe. Almost every free country in the world celebrates a "rememberance" day or similar, in the United States it's called Veterans Day and it is tomorrow, 11/11.
Until next time,