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Published on: Monday, July 8, 2024 read more ...

For First Time in Nearly 100 Years, Public Authorized to Approach Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Plaza


ARLINGTON, Va. — For the first time in nearly 100 years, and as part of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Centennial Commemoration, the public will be able to walk on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Plaza and lay flowers in front of the Tomb on Nov. 9 and 10, 2021.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Centennial Commemoration Public Flower Ceremony, a two-day event, will be free and open to the public and will allow visitors to personally pay their respects to the Unknown Soldiers. This is a rare opportunity for the public to walk next to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a privilege otherwise given only to the sentinels of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, “The Old Guard.”

“As the stewards of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, it’s our honor to lead the centennial commemoration of this site,” said Karen Durham-Aguilera, executive director of Army National Military Cemeteries and Arlington National Cemetery. “The Tomb has served as the heart of Arlington National Cemetery. It is a people’s memorial that inspires reflection on service, valor, sacrifice and mourning. As a sacred memorial site and the grave of three unknown American service members, the Tomb connects visitors with the legacy of the U.S. armed forces throughout the nation’s history.”

The public flower ceremony information and instructions include:

•  Registration is required at Eventbrite.com: https://anctomb100.eventbrite.com/

​•  The flower ceremony will be held Tuesday, Nov. 9, and Wednesday, Nov. 10.

​•  The hours to participate are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

​•  Visitors are encouraged to bring their own flowers, but complimentary roses, gerbera daisies and sunflowers will be distributed.

​•  Trams will be available free of charge for the public to participate in the ceremony at the Memorial Amphitheater. Follow all signage and staff directions to access the Memorial Amphitheater and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

​•  The flower ceremony will start on Nov. 9 at 8 a.m. with representatives from the Crow Nation placing flowers at the Tomb and reciting the prayer that may have been given 100 years ago by American Indian Chief Plenty Coups.

​•  Interpretive talks will be given from the Memorial Amphitheater west steps (side closest to Mast of the Maine Memorial) throughout the day.

​•  Educational and directional signage will be along Memorial Avenue and at the Memorial Amphitheater.

​•  This event will take place rain or shine.

​•  The event is ADA-accessible as well as stroller-friendly.

​•  The ceremony will end on Nov. 10 at 4 p.m. with the original benediction recited by the Army Chief of Chaplains, Maj. Gen. Thomas L. Solhjem.

​•  All visitors must have a government-issued ID for access. Cemetery entrances include:

- Ord and Weitzel Gate (Pedestrians only)

- 123 Service Complex (Pedestrians only)

- Old Post Chapel Gate (Family pass holder vehicle access/General public pedestrian access)

- Memorial Ave (Family pass holder vehicle access)

- Welcome Center (Pedestrian access)

​•  Family pass holders will not be authorized to drive near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier or park on nearby streets. Presentation of a family pass for your loved one’s grave location will be required when driving near the Memorial Amphitheater. 

​•  Click here or scroll down for Frequently Asked Questions about the flower ceremony. 

On Veterans Day, Nov. 11, the public will be invited to observe a joint full honors procession (meant to replicate elements of the World War I Unknown Soldier’s 1921 funeral procession) and a joint service flyover (aerial review) with aircraft from all branches of the military. The public is invited to stand along a special procession route to participate.

Due to COVID protocols, the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs is hosting an invitation-only Presidential Armed Forces Full Honor Wreath-Laying Ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the National Veterans Day Observance at the Memorial Amphitheater. A virtual program may be viewed at @ARLINGTONNATL.  

“Throughout this year, the cemetery has held events leading up to the centennial ceremony,” said Charles “Ray” Alexander Jr., superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery. “We encourage the public to experience and participate in the commemorative events in many ways, both at the cemetery and virtually.”

Other events include: 

​•  Two new complementary historical museum exhibits at the ANC Welcome Center and the Memorial Amphitheater Display Room, including interpretive panels, artifacts, and historic photographs and films. Online videos of both exhibits are currently in development and will be available on Arlington National Cemetery’s website and social media platforms (@arlingtonnatl).

​•  The release of a free educational module for students and lifelong learners of all ages titled “The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,” which is available at https://education.arlingtoncemetery.mil. It includes lesson plans, assignments and primary-source readings for elementary, middle and high school students, as well as self-guided walking tours that can be used to explore the cemetery either virtually or in person. Lesson plans align with national and state social studies standards and can be easily adapted for homeschooling or virtual learning.

​•  The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier official commemorative guide will be published by the U.S. Army Center of Military History and distributed in print and online (Fall 2021). 

Please visit www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Tomb100 for the most up-to-date news and information, including entrance and security requirements regarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Centennial Commemoration.

Additional information regarding the National Veterans Day Observance, virtual attendance and online viewing information will be made available soon.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The #Tomb100 Resource Guide, available at https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Tomb100, provides downloadable graphics, images, links to historic videos and photographs, quick facts, historical documentation and more. The Resource Guide will be updated throughout the year.

Flower Ceremony FAQ

Q: What is the Tomb of the Unknown Centennial Commemorative Public Flower Ceremony?
A: For the first time in nearly 100 years, and to mark the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Centennial Commemoration, the public will be able to walk on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier plaza and lay a flower in front of the Tomb on November 9 and 10.

Q: What time does the flower ceremony begin? What time does the ceremony end?
A: The public will be able to lay a flower at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier between 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. each day on November 9 and 10. There is no flower ceremony on Veterans Day (November 11).

Q: Do I need a ticket for this event?
A: Yes. Please visit https://anctomb100.eventbrite.com/ and register for a time slot to help minimize wait times. No one will be turned away if they do not have a timed ticket; those without tickets may have a longer wait, however.

Q: How many days does the ceremony last?
A: The flower ceremony will be held on only two days – November 9 and 10, 2021.

Q: Where does the flower ceremony begin?
A: Members of the public will be able to walk across the plaza from north to south, stopping in front of the Tomb to place their flower at the foot of the ledger stones, and then depart the plaza to the south. The public will be able to pick up flowers on the northwest side of Memorial Amphitheater on Memorial Drive.  

Should a long line develop to pick up and place the flowers, cemetery staff will ensure that the line begins at the intersection of Porter Drive and Memorial Drive on the southwest side of the Amphitheater.

Q: How do I get to the Tomb for the Flower Ceremony? Can I walk there from the Welcome Center, or do I need to take the tram?
A: Visitors are welcome to walk to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, or they can ride the free flower ceremony tram. This special tram will leave from the Welcome Center and drop off at the queuing lanes located on Porter Drive.

Q: Can I bring my own flowers? What kind of flowers can I bring?
A: Visitors are welcome to bring their own flowers. We are asking for single stem flowers only. No bouquets, vases or large arrangements will be allowed on the plaza.

Q: Can I lay more than one flower?
We request that each visitor lay only one flower at the Tomb during their visit.

Q: I want to lay my flower but then keep it; is that allowed?
A: No. Once the flowers have been laid at the Tomb, each visitor will be required to depart to plaza to the south.

Q: Is this event wheelchair accessible? Is this event stroller accessible?
Yes. This event is wheelchair and stroller accessible.

Q: Is the transportation for this event wheelchair accessible? Is the transportation stroller accessible?
A: The tram service is wheelchair and stroller accessible.

Q: Is this event kid-friendly/kid-accessible?
A: Children are welcome to participate in the flower ceremony.

Q: Can I just watch the event from the steps of Memorial Amphitheater? Do I have to participate?
A: The steps above the Tomb plaza will remain open to members of the public who do not desire to lay a wreath or who just wish to observe the ceremony. The Amphitheater Display Room exhibits will also be open to the public. The steps to the east and below the Tomb will be closed to the public because the Tomb Sentinels will be performing their watch from those steps during this ceremony.

Q: What is the COVID protocol for this event?
A: Currently, ANC follows federal policy: face coverings must be worn indoors on federal property. Face coverings are optional in all outdoor environments.

Face coverings are optional during the flower ceremony. You must have a face covering when visiting the exhibits in the Welcome Center and Memorial Amphitheater Display Room.

Q: What is the rain protocol for this event?
A: The Flower Ceremony will continue rain or shine.

Q: Is there something to do while waiting in line?
We encourage everyone to download our mobile app, ANC Explorer, at app stores or by clicking here. You can learn about the cemetery’s rich history and find notable graves and interesting monuments along the queuing lanes. 

ANC historians will be giving interpretive talks from the Memorial Amphitheater west steps (on the side closest to the Mast of the USS Maine) throughout the day. There will also be interpretive signs along the queuing lanes with facts about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier’s history.

Our staff will be happy to answer any questions as well.

Q: Can I film myself laying a flower?
A: No. Selfies are not authorized. We recommend that a friend or family member take your photograph either from the Amphitheater stairs or from the entrance or exit of the ceremony.

Q: How can I take a photo of myself as I lay my flower?
A:  Visitors desiring to film or photograph themselves laying a flower at the Tomb may have someone else take the video or photograph from the Amphitheater steps or near the pedestrian exit to the south of the plaza.

Q: Once I exit the flower ceremony, how do I leave the cemetery?
A: Pedestrian visitors can walk back to the Welcome Center by continuing south of the plaza and taking the circular path to the east to the lower mall level of the plaza, which leads to Roosevelt Drive. Visitors desiring to leave the cemetery from the tram can continue south of the plaza and take the walkway around to the west side of the Amphitheater to re-board the tram.

Q: Why is this the first time a ceremony like this has been done?
A: Ceremonies are held at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier almost every day. However, this commemoration was mandated in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. Moreover, it is fitting to remember, in a special way, the interment of the World War I Unknown Soldier and the dedication of the Tomb one hundred years ago (on November 11, 1921) so that all Americans continue to recognize the service and sacrifice made by members of our military.

Q: Will family pass holders have any special requirements/privileges?
A: Family pass holders will not be permitted to park near the Memorial Amphitheater unless they are visiting a loved one’s grave. Security personnel will be checking family passes during these two days. There is also no parking on Wheaton Place from November 9 through 11.

Q: What will happen to the flowers after the ceremony?
A: ANC will dispose of the flowers in an environmentally friendly manner. A few flowers will be retained for historical purposes.

Q: Will ANC do another event like this in the future? (125 years, 150 years, etc.?)
A: We do not anticipate holding another event in our lifetimes in which the public will be able to approach the Tomb in this manner.

Q: Since this is technically an event for the World War I Unknown, will similar events be held for the World War II and Korean War Unknowns?
A: We cannot predict what ceremonies may or may not occur several decades from now, but the centennial of the Tomb’s dedication is a significant milestone to commemorate.

Q: Will this event be televised or streamed online?
A:  We expect major news network coverage for all of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Centennial events. ANC’s social media platforms will be covering all events in real time.

Q: Will the changing of the guard still take place during this event?
A: During the flower ceremony, the Tomb Sentinels will be conducting a shorter, modified changing of the guard at the beginning of each hour on the east side of the Tomb, on top of the grand staircase.