Tomb of the Unknowns welcomes audiences for the first time in 73 years
The decision to make an unknown soldier a symbol for those killed and lost in World War I arose in part from deep concern that the US military would be left in cemeteries abroad, Micki said McElya, professor of history at the University of Connecticut and author of “The Politics of Mourning: Death and Honor at Arlington National Cemetery.”
In 1918, Newton Baker, the Secretary of War, promised the dead would be repatriated, but the logistics of bringing back thousands of bodies from Europe were overwhelming and threatened to disrupt relations with England and France, including the leaders did not want to take responsibility for transporting dead American soldiers, she said.
Some military leaders in the United States have also felt that “soldiers should rest where they have fallen,” Professor McElya said.
Honoring an Unknown Soldier has helped answer the question of what to do about the lost dead.
But as the grave became more of a tourist destination and visitors became unruly, veterans became enraged and demanded protections around it, Professor McElya said.
Initially, a palisade was placed. Next, a chain-link fence.
It was not until 1948 that the United States Third Infantry Regiment, the Army’s oldest active duty infantry unit, was tasked with guarding the grave at all times and keeping visitors away. , except for official ceremonies.
The entire site around the tomb has been “understood as a sacred place deserving of reverent treatment, not intended to be trampled on by visitors,” said Dr Finkelstein.
This became particularly important in 1958, when crypts containing the remains of unknown soldiers from World War II and the Korean War were placed over the grave, she said. The tomb also includes an empty crypt which once contained the remains of an Air Force pilot who was killed during the Vietnam War but was identified in 1998 through DNA.