News article showing the final resting place for the “Unknown” soldier in 1921.

For 100 years, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier has served as the heart of Arlington National Cemetery. It stands as a people’s memorial that inspires reflection on service, valor, sacrifice and mourning.

What is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier?

The “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier” refers to a special kind of monument that contains the unidentified remains of a soldier or soldiers who have died in battle. Several countries have such memorials, including Australia, Canada, France, and Britain. The American Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is situated at Arlington National Cemetery outside of Washington, D.C.

Why did the United States Congress decide to construct this historic monument? What does it represent?

Congress authorized the construction of the monument in March 1921 as a way to honor American soldiers who had died in the Great War, which had ended only a few years prior. The tomb itself represents not only the unknown soldier himself, but all known and unknown American casualties during what was then the deadliest war in human history.

Can you tell me a brief history of the Unknowns that are now buried at the monument?

Buried in the crypt itself is an American casualty in World War I. In preparation for the memorial, four bodies were exhumed from military cemeteries across Europe. Sargent Edward F. Younger selected the body by laying white roses on its casket. The body was later interred in the crypt on November 11, 1921. In subsequent decades, unknown remains from other wars such as World War II, Korea, and Vietnam were also interred there, though the body from the latter was later identified and exhumed according the family’s wishes.

Can you tell me about The Old Guard soldiers who now guard The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier?

While there were always soldiers guarding the tomb, the 3rd Infantry Regiment or “The Old Guard” has been guarding the tomb since 1948. This special unit dedicated exclusively to guarding the tomb is unique from other units in the US Army. In addition to special training, The Old Guard eschews rank insignia on their uniforms so as not to outrank the unknown. Being chosen to serve in this ceremonially significant unit is considered a high honor.

How should Christians react to the 100-year-Anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier?

The purpose of monument, memorials, statues, and the like are to remind the present of great events, people, and movements of the past. I believe that the Bible gives a precedent for the people of God to do the same. Joshua 4 describes how God commanded the Israelites to draw twelve stones from the Jordan River and set them up as a reminder of the miracle of crossing the river on dry ground. This, along with the anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier can serve as a reminder to Christians to set up monuments in their life to remind them of what God has done in their lives.

To learn more about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, visit the Arlington National Cemetery homepage.


John Thomas Justus is a TMU alum with a bachelor’s in history and a master’s in theology. He is currently completing his PhD in American history from Liberty University Online with hopes to finish by 2024.

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