Preparations Underway for Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Centennial

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Published Jun 22, 2019 7:28 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Society of the Honor Guard, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (SHGTUS) Centennial Committee has many projects currently under development in the lead up to the 100th anniversary of the burial of an Unknown American Soldier who fought and died in World War I and is buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.

On the 11th Hour, of the 11th Day, of the 11th Month in 2021 Americans will pause to recognize those who have sacrificed and those who will sacrifice in the future in the defense of America’s freedom and democracy. SHGTUS hopes to include all Americans and bring communities together through a range of initiatives. 

“It is important to remember that the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is not just about World War I, but it is about every individual who has ever served - or will ever serve - and America’s promise to them that they will never forget them,” says President Gavin McIlvenna. “The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier fosters a unifying national identity that transcends our differences of politics, race or religion, and we have applied our best efforts to plan, develop and initiate a number of activities suitable for this solemn occasion of national importance.”

Those plans will culminate in 2021 with a Centennial Week in Washington DC from November 8-11, 2021.

Among the initiatives underway, SHGTUS has reached out to the Boy and Girl Scouts of America to develop a new merit badge for recognition of the occasion. It has also developed a commemorative coin that will be used as a fundraiser, which is currently for sale on their website.

“We have developed an educational tool kit containing materials that will help Americans reunite with those who have served and sacrificed in times of war or armed conflict,” says McIlvenna. “This tool kit is intended to help children learn more about the Unknown Soldiers buried in Arlington National Cemetery and all those who have served and sacrificed. The kit informs the groups before they visit or lay a wreath in Arlington, and then upon returning to their schools and communities, to help them share their experiences.”

He says that SHGTUS is also working with the Naval Historical and Heritage Command and midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy to research and preserve the historical documents, photographs, and items surrounding the transportation of the Unknown Soldiers by USN/USCG vessels. SHGTUS has also been working with the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia to highlight the important part the USS Olympia and her crew played in the transportation of the World War I Unknown Soldier in 1921.

SHGTUS is working with Arlington National Cemetery on the national commemoration plans, and has proposed an initiative to be known as “Public Placing of Flowers on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier” or "Carnation Ceremony" as a way to provide the citizenry an opportunity for individual participation in the ceremonies remembering and reuniting the American people with all those who have and will serve and sacrifice on behalf of America in times of war or armed conflict.  

Specifically, each visitor will be provided an opportunity to place a flower before the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (TUS) and a moment to silently express their patriotic identity with those American values represented by the TUS, those entombed therein, and America’s sacred duty to never ever forget or forsake them during the commemoration ceremonies on November 9-11, 2021. SHGTUS  is also inviting federal, state, regional, local governments, individuals and private sector organizations to built a Never Forget Garden. Some suggestions for plants to be grown include:

• White Roses: Purity – White roses offer a powerful connection to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Chosen to designate the Unknown Soldier of WWI, Sergeant Edward F. Younger did so by placing a “spray of white roses” upon one of four caskets containing the remains of unidentifiable Americans killed in combat in 1921.

• Purple Viola: Innocence – This is the National Flower of the Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH), known as the “Purple Heart Viola”, which has been described as having “the shape of a heart and is deep purple in color.” The flower was adopted 1946 by the Executive Committee of the MOPH after long consideration of the most appropriate bloom to symbolize the MOPH.

• Carnations: Admiration and Love – White, Red and Blue carnations were used in the selection ceremonies of the World War II and Korean War Unknown Soldiers.

• Poppies: Remembrance – The poem “In Flanders Fields” written by World War I Colonel John McCrae, a surgeon with Canada's First Brigade Artillery, captures McCrae's grief over the "row on row" of graves of soldiers who had died on Flanders' battlefields, located in a region of western Belgium and northern France. It presents a striking image of the bright red flowers blooming among the rows of white crosses and became a rallying cry to all who fought in the First World War. 

SHGTUS welcomes any help with its projects, and more information is available at their website:  www.tombguard.org/centennial  They can also be reached by emailing [email protected]  

For more information on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Sentinels that stand the eternal watch, and the Society visit:

Web: www.tombguard.org Facebook: @societyofthehonorguard Twitter: @shgtus