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100th Anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
(Produced in association with National Archives Education Updates)
Fields, Disman Ried. “3 in 1 For Humanity (U.S. Soldier Saluting British, American, and French Flags).” Inscribed Postcard. Location Unknown, n.d. https://theworldwar.pastperfectonline.com/archive/76B390CF-359A-491F-A730-679865044627 (accessed November 16, 2021).
This past Thursday, November 11, 2021, we celebrated Veterans Day. Veterans Day is a day we set aside to recognize all who have served - past and present - in the United States military. Originally known as Armistice Day, it was a time to commemorate the armistice signed between the Western Allies and Imperial Germany, effectively ending the fighting during the First World War on November 11, 1918. Armistice Day became a federal legal holiday in 1938. In 1954, the 83rd Congress amended the Act of 1938 by changing "Armistice" to "Veterans."
Ellefson, Craig A. “St. Mihiel American Cemetery Memorial Chapel interior, St. Mihiel, France.” Photograph. Private Photo Collection. St. Mihiel, France, July 2017.
November 2021 also marks the centennial of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. On November 11, 1921, following the end of World War I, the repatriated remains of an unknown member of the American Expeditionary Forces were interred at Arlington National Cemetery. Since then, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier has provided a final resting place for Unknowns from World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
With more than 100,000 American casualties from the first World War, the large numbers of unidentified dead posed an unprecedented repatriation challenge for the United States.
In December 1920, New York Congressman and WWI veteran Hamilton Fish, Jr., proposed legislation "to bring home the body of an unknown American warrior who in himself represents no section, creed, or race in the late war and who typifies, moreover, the soul of America and the supreme sacrifice of her heroic dead."
Photographer unknown. “U.S. Machine Gun Crew Firing a Lewis Machine Gun during WWI, circa 1918.” Photograph. Place unknown, n.d. https://ww2db.com/image.php?image_id=5494 (accessed November 16, 2021).
The Tomb has grown into a powerful national symbol of service and sacrifice. To this day, it is protected 24 hours a day by members of the 3rd Infantry Regiment (also known as the Old Guard). The President (or their designee) has placed a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Veterans and Memorial Day each year.
Photographer Unknown. “A captain assigned to the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, ‘The Old Guard,’ gets in position during the Army’s 233rd birthday tribute at the Tomb of the Unknowns.” Photograph. Arlington National Cemetery, VA, June 14, 2008. U.S. Department of Defense. https://www.defense.gov/Multimedia/Photos/igphoto/2001149234/ (accessed November 16, 2021).
Fraser, Elizabeth. Photographer. “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery.” Arlington, VA. Photograph. U.S. Army Photo, n.d. https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Explore/Tomb-of-the-Unknown-Soldier (accessed November 16, 2021).
President Nixon participating in a wreath-laying ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the entombment of the first unknown soldier. November 11, 1971, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia (Image: WHPO-7779-06A).
In recognition of the 100th Anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the National Archives, through DocsTeach, has created several new teaching resources.
Comparing Designs for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
This activity, designed for grades 4-8, introduces students to the idea of tombstones being used throughout history to remember people who have died.Students are asked to perceive and describe elements of art (such as shape, material, and symbols) in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They will compare and contrast an earlier version of the memorial with an updated version, identify their feelings about each version, and brainstorm reasons why Congress wanted to update the design.
Use this activity while teaching about symbolism, photograph analysis, artwork or sculpture analysis, or to connect to Veterans Day.
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Resolution Analysis
In this activity, designed for grades 5-8, students will carefully analyze the Congressional joint resolution that established the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.
After learning more about the resolution document, they will consider the question: "Why do you think the United States honors the Unknown Soldier in such a way?"
Use this activity while teaching the end of World War I, in a discussion about monuments, or to support Veterans or Memorial Day.
100th Anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
This new exhibit on Google Arts and Culture showcases special media records, including drawings, photographs, and film, relating to the history of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The Tomb is one of America's most iconic memorials and is visited every year by millions of visitors. This exhibit explores its history.
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The Nixon Library Education and Public Programs Team