Washington DC Arlington Cemetery, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

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Open every day, 24 hours a day, since 1937, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery honors military personnel who were lost in war and did not return home to their families. The first unknown soldier, from WW1, was honored on Veteran’s Day in 1921 in a ceremony in front of President Harding. Since this time, soldiers from each war (WW1, WW2, Vietnam, Korean) were randomly selected to represent all the unknowns. However, because of DNA technology, the identity of the Vietnam soldier was tested and the body was exhumed. A plaque has repacked the casket. It is the only national cemetery that holds soldiers from every war in US history since the Revolution. Over 400,000 graves are on the grounds including 2 presidents and their wives, astronauts, 400 Medal of Honor recipients, and 4000 slaves.

The sculptors, the Piccirilli Brothers also sculpted the Abraham Lincoln of the Lincoln Memorial, the lions outside of the New York Public Library, the Maine Monument in Central Park, and DuPont Circle Fountain in

The tomb is guarded by a special force, “The Old Guard,” which is a highly competitive and elite position to US Army soldiers. Besides memorizing the 35 page history of the monument, guards spend up to 8 hours preparing their uniform for their watch- which is a 24 hour period. They alternate “walking the mat” in 30 minute to 2 hour shifts (depending on the weather.) There have been only 3 women who have served in the honor guard. As they march, the guards take 21 steps to the end of the may, wait 21 seconds, turn to the tomb and walk 21 steps to the other end of the mat, repeating this for their entire shift. The 21 is a reference to the 21-gun salute, an honor given during the burial ceremony of a military service member. It is a very somber and moving event to see. You can also see the eternal flame at Arlington.

The land where Arlington sits was originally property of George Washington Park Custis, who’s grandmother was Martha Washington. When Custis died, Mary Lee Was inherited it as the only surviving child. She and Robert E Lee raised their 7 children on the land, but when war broke out they were evicted. After the war, the land was disputed between the Lee family and the US Government, which has already buried many soldiers on the grounds. The Lee family won the court battle, and the US Government purchased the land for $150,000.
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