April 23, 2014

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11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month
Written by Jim Robertson   
Tuesday, November 06, 2012 10:52 PM

Sunday is Veteran’s Day. The anniversary of the day when in 1918 the guns fell silent at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the 11th month.

Formerly known as Armistice Day and still known as Remembrance Day in Canada, the observance marked the end of the “war to end all wars.”

At the time the war was just referred to as the World War.  It didn’t get a number until the unresolved problems from it boiled up twenty years later into a second world war.

There have been many unknown casualties of our various wars since earliest times.  Modern forensics have helped to identify casualties in our more recent wars but in the surge of national patriotism that followed the Great War, Congress not to be outdone by our European allies passed a resolution to return an unknown soldier to be buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day, 1921.

The Quartermaster Corps of the US Army was designated as the unit to carry out the duty of selecting an unknown and returning him to the United States.

Four unknowns of the fallen were gathered from the four main cemeteries in France.  They were taken to Chalons, France, where the four coffins were placed in a hotel ballroom under a guard of honor.

Sgt. Edward Younger, on duty with the American forces in Germany and possessor of an outstanding war record was given the honor of selecting one of the four to represent all of the unknowns.

On the morning of Oct. 24, 1921, with many high ranking American and French military personnel in attendance, Sgt. Younger entered the room while a French military band played an appropriate air.  He circled the caskets three times before coming to stop before one of them.

He then placed a spray of white roses on the third from the left, came to attention and saluted.
The chosen casket was then allowed to lie in state for several hours before being removed to a flag-draped gun carriage and given a military escort to the train station where it was placed aboard a special train and taken to the port of Le Havre.

There the casket was placed aboard the cruiser, Olympia, Commodore Dewey’s flagship from the Spanish-American War and was brought back to America.

Landing at the Washington Navy Yard on Nov. 9, the flag-draped casket was taken to the rotunda of the US Capitol where it lay in state for the next day. On the morning of  Nov. 11, it was escorted to Arlington by the president, vice-president, the justices of the Supreme Court, members of Congress and high ranking and distinguished members of the military.

The pallbearers consisted of general officers of the Army and admirals of the Navy.

A simple funeral service was conducted in the amphitheater at Arlington, where the president conferred the Congressional Medal of Honor and Distinguished Service Cross upon the unknown.

A small committal service was then held featuring three salvos of artillery, the playing of Taps and the National Salute.

The white marble sarcophagus that is seen today was not completed until 1930. The tomb is guarded by members of the US Army’s Third Infantry regiment, (The Old Guard), which performs their duties 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The Sentinels, as they are known, have to meet strict requirements to be selected for tomb duty. They may not smoke, drink or cuss. Not only for the two years of their tour, but for the rest of their lives.

To all veterans, thank you for your service.

Jim Robertson is a longtime Harrison resident, a member of Harrison City Council, and a weekly columnist for The Harrison Press.