Welcome to Memorial Day services of 2021. We are gathered here today to honor men and women who have served our country in all wars. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this, but in a larger sense we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, for the brave men living and dead have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. Rather it is for us, the living, to be dedicated, to preserving the memories of those who fought and died for our freedoms.
I’d like to make a shout out to Second Lieutenant John Druce, United States Marine Corps, who passed away in 2020. He was an avid supporter of Memorial Day and Veterans Day observances. He offered many praises for my speeches and offered topics for future speeches. Semper Fi.
“Here rests in honored glory, an American Soldier known but to God.” These are the words inscribed on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This is the 100th year anniversary of the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
After the Great War, France and England erected memorials to their Unknown Soldiers. The United States took a little more time to decide when and where. Sites considered were the Chamber two stories below the Capitol that was built for George Washington, and also Central Park. But as you know, Arlington National Cemetery became the choice.
It was decided that there would be eight body bearers who would be decorated Combat Veterans, all of them to be within one inch of six feet tall, who represented different branches of the service. General John Jay Pershing was delegated to choose the eight body bearers, some of who he knew personally. There were hundreds of candidates.
Meanwhile, in France, four mortuary teams spread out over the countryside and exhumed four unknown soldiers. They meticulously and carefully examined the remains to determine that there was nothing to recognize them by. They were put into Springfield caskets and into wooden crates and taken to the City Hall in Chelons, France. There at city hall, the caskets were put on top of the crates and draped with the American flag. A team was sent into the room and took the bodies out of the caskets and swapped them around so as to further make it impossible to identify them.
One of the eight body bearers was selected by General Pershing to choose the Unknown Soldier. He walked into the room with a bouquet of flowers and walked from casket to casket several times. Suddenly, something drew him to the second casket on the left, and he placed the bouquet and saluted, thus selecting the Unknown Soldier.
The other three Unknown Soldiers were returned to their respective cemeteries and re-interred. The next day, the Unknown Soldier lied in State and hundreds of French people passed by, while guarded by the French military and an American delegation.
The next day, with great military pomp and ceremony, they placed him on a horse drawn caisson and took him to the train station where he was transported by train to Paris and then on to Le Havre. At Le Havre, they boarded the USS Olympia. On the 9th day of November 1921, the Olympia arrived in the Potomac and landed at Washington Navy Yard. There, several military units, with great ceremony, took him to the Capitol.
President Warren G. Harding and his wife, Florence, were the first to visit the Unknown Soldier. Mrs. Harding placed a scarf that she had made on the casket, and President Harding pinned a medal representing the individual states on the scarf. Former Presidents and Vice Presidents and Congressional members visited the body throughout the day.
The second day, the Capitol was opened to the public, and over 95,000 people passed by. The following morning, the 11th day of November 1921, the second anniversary of the Armistice, the Unknown Soldier was loaded on to a caisson drawn by six jet black horses. General Pershing was delegated to lead this parade, but he declined saying that he felt his position was with his men, so he marched behind the caisson with a contingent of Congressional award winners, past Presidents, and military and American delegates. Former President Wilson, who had had a stroke and was unable to walk, followed in a carriage.
When they passed by the White House, most of the officials stepped out and went by vehicles the rest of the way, while General Pershing and his men marched the full five miles to Arlington Cemetery. When they arrived at the Amphitheater in Arlington, a full military service was conducted. President Harding delivered the commencement speech and, for the first time in history, was heard live over the Bell Telephone system in Chicago and San Francisco. Numerous other people delivered speeches and Bishop Charles Brent delivered the eulogy. After the sounding of taps, the Unknown Soldier was lowered into the sarcophagus, laying on a bed of French soil that had been brought across with him, symbolizing the soil that he gave his life blood on.
The tomb of the Unknown Soldier is guarded 24/7/365 by the Old Guard, the 3rd United States infantry, which is the oldest unit of our country, dating back to the Revolutionary war. They guard with meticulous precision and wear no insignia of rank on their uniform so as not to out rank the Unknown Soldier.
In the 1930s, a larger stone was placed on the Tomb that you see today. So, as we leave here today, may we be ever mindful of the men and women who have served our country in all wars. May we never forget those who gave their last full measure of devotion. And may we never forget the families of those who never returned for they, too, paid a price for our freedom.
May your hearts swell with Pride deep within your breast whenever you see Old Glory paint the breeze. And may I leave you today with these word from Bishop Charles Brent: “Help us to be clear to all worthy soldiers, living and dead, whose sacrifices and valor fade not from our memory.” May God bless our Veterans, and may God Bless the USA.