Special Orders: The Origins of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
By Ken Zurski
In March 1921, after a congressional resolution was passed calling for an American serviceman, remains unknown, to be buried at Arlington Cemetery, preparations were made to bring the unidentified soldier home from France.
Seven months later, at the end of October, America’s Unknown departed the French border aboard the U.S.S. Olympia and arrived in Washington D.C. with military honors. A procession from the Navy Yards led to the capital rotunda where the casket would lie in state. Senator Tom Cotton, who served a tour of duty in Arlington and wrote about it in his book Sacred Duty, adds: “By midnight, nearly one-hundred thousand people had passed through the rotunda to honor the Unknown.”
Then on Armistice Day, November 11, the body was transported to Arlington Cemetery and lowered into a tomb. “The Unknown now rested in his eternal home, on the high ground of Arlington,” writes Cotton.
Although the peacefulness of the large block of marble suited its solemn surroundings, the effort to bring the soldier to Arlington began several weeks before in a small French village at a makeshift chapel.
Four unidentified bodies were drawn from separate regions of the European theater.
One would be selected.
Sgt. Edward Younger of Chicago was the unassuming soldier chosen to make the pick. Younger had served in the war, went home, and then reenlisted. He was on special duty when he got orders. “Take these flowers,” his commanding officer told him, “proceed to the chapel and place them on one of the caskets.” Younger had served as one of the pall bearers for the four bodies. Now his role had become even more important.
Alone and in silence, Younger circled the four caskets. He touched each one. He knelt and prayed. Then something drew him to the second casket on the right. “It seemed as if God himself guided my hand,” Younger recalled.
A voice said to him, “This is a pal of yours.”
He gently set the flowers down and saluted.
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