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Building a Tomb for Unknown Soldiers
Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery

Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery

Photo © Tom Brakefield / Getty Images
The Tomb of the Unknowns, or the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers, at Arlington National Cemetery is a simple white marble sarcophagus (coffin) that holds powerful symbolic meaning.

Like the walls of the Lincoln Memorial, the Tomb of the Unknowns is constructed with bright white marble from the Yule Quarry in Colorado. Neoclassical pilasters, wreaths, and Grecian figures decorate the marble panels. One panel is inscribed: HERE RESTS IN HONORED GLORY AN AMERICAN SOLDIER KNOWN BUT TO GOD.

Who Built the Tomb of the Unknowns?

  • Architect: Lorimer Rich
  • Fabricators: Craftsmen in Proctor, Vermont
  • Sculptor: Thomas Hudson Jones
What Do the 3 Greek Figures Symbolize?
  • Peace
  • Victory
  • Valor
What Do the 6 Wreaths Symbolize?
The six wreaths represent the six major battle campaigns of World War I:
  • Chateau-Terrie
  • Ardennes
  • Oisiu-Eisue
  • Meusse-Argonne
  • Belleauwood
  • Sommes
Timeline
  • November 11, 1921: An unidentified soldier killed in France during World War I was buried beneath a marble slab at Arlington National Cemetery.
  • November 11, 1932: A sarcophagus was installed over the unknown soldier's grave.
  • May 30, 1958: An unknown soldier from World War II and an unknown soldier from the Korean War were buried beneath marble slabs set in the plaza beside the sarcophagus.
  • May 28, 1984: A soldier from the Vietnam War was also buried beneath a marble slab set in the plaza beside the sarcophagus.
  • May 14, 1998: The grave of the Vietnam soldier was exhumed. DNA testing revealed the soldier's identity as First Lieutenant Michael Blassie, United States Air Force. Now that he was longer unknown, Michael Blassie was interred elsewhere.
Shortly after discovering the identity of Michael Blassie, the word Vietnam was removed from his former gravesite. Today the stone reads: Honoring and Keeping Faith with America's Missing Servicemen.

Although the Tomb of the Unknowns holds the remains of only a few individuals, the site honors the many unidentified men and women who gave their lives in armed conflict. Moreover, the Tomb of the Unknowns underscores America's commitment to account for all service members who are missing.

What was the first Tomb of Unknown Soldiers? >>

Learn More About the Tomb of the Unknowns

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