Public Invited to Honor the Centennial of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

By JENIFER LEIGH VAN VLECK on 10/13/2021

By Kevin M. Hymel, Contractor, ANC History Office

Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) is inviting the public to participate in honoring the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier centennial. This November 11 will mark 100 years since the Unknown Soldier from World War I was laid to rest in the newly constructed Tomb on the plaza of the cemetery’s Memorial Amphitheater.

On November 9 and 10, people will be able to place flowers at the Tomb from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The Public Flower Ceremony “will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity—the first time in decades that people will be able to approach the Tomb in this manner,” explained Gerald Lowe, ANC’s Director of Operations (pictured at right).

The Tomb Sentinels, soldiers from the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Regiment (the Old Guard) will continue to guard the Tomb from a modified position. They will walk on the east side of the Tomb and perform the changing of the guard ceremony at the top of every hour. “Having only one changing of the guard each hour minimizes any disruptions to the flower ceremony,” said Lowe.

People wishing to lay flowers at the Tomb will be able to get in line on Memorial Drive inside the cemetery. Although the public may bring their own flowers, they can also pick up complimentary flowers at a distribution point on the north side of Memorial Amphitheater. The complimentary flowers include roses, Gerbera daisies and sunflowers. Registration is free and available through Eventbrite at https://anctomb100.eventbrite.com/.

To enhance the experience, ANC historians will provide interpretive talks about the Tomb and the cemetery from the west steps of Memorial Amphitheater. Signs indicating wait times, and offering historical information about the Tomb, will be placed along Memorial Drive. “We’re doing everything we can to engage the public,” said Lowe. “One significance of the Tomb is to enhance the military-civilian relationship.” 

The Public Flower Ceremony will begin on November 9, with representatives from the Crow Nation (Apsáalooke) placing flowers at the Tomb and reciting the prayer that may have been given 100 years ago by Crow Chief Plenty Coups. The ceremony will conclude the next day, with the U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains, Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Thomas L. Solhjem, reciting the address given by the first chief of chaplains, Chaplain (Col.) John T. Axton, at the Unknown Soldier’s burial in 1921. Specific times will be blocked off for U.S. and foreign officials, as well as ANC employees, to lay flowers and pay their respects. 

The commemorative events will culminate on November 11 with a Joint Full Honors Procession, involving all branches of the U.S. armed forces. The procession, which will evoke elements of the World War I Unknown Soldier’s 1921 funeral procession, will start on Memorial Avenue and end at the Roosevelt Fountain, east of the Tomb. It will include the U.S. Army Band; soldiers dressed in period uniforms from World War I, World War II and the Korean War; and military attachés from countries that took part in the 1921 ceremonies. There will be no caisson, however, since there are no remains to be transported.

Finally, a Joint Armed Forces Flyover will pass over the cemetery and the National Mall. While not part of the original 1921 ceremony, the flyover has been added to the centennial commemoration as an element of contemporary military rituals. “Aircraft from all the services, including the Coast Guard, will be there,” said Lowe. “We want the public to be able to watch the procession move past,” he added, “then turn their eyes to the sky for the aerial review.”

The centennial ceremonies on November 11 will take place in conjunction with the National Veterans Day Observance, held every year at Arlington National Cemetery. At 11:00 a.m., a wreath-laying ceremony will be held on the Tomb plaza, followed by remarks from a senior government official in Memorial Amphitheater.  

ANC expects a large public turnout for the three-day event. “I’m looking forward to a robust response by people wanting to pay their respects to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country,” Lowe stated.

For more information on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Centennial Commemoration, please go to https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Tomb100 and follow us on social media @ArlingtonNatl.