Linda Moss Mines: An American Soldier Known Only To God Part I

Thursday, November 11, 2021 - by Linda Moss Mines, Hamilton County Historian

In April 1917, the United States Congress declared war on Germany and, during the next nineteen months, more than four million American men would serve in the Great War, with 2.8 million serving in Europe. Emotions ran high among citizens as the civilian front activated in full support of the “war to end all wars,” responding to President Woodrow Wilson’s appeal for unity that “would make the world safe for democracy.” 

At 11:11 am on 11 November, 1918, the guns fell silent as the belligerent nations signed an armistice, agreeing to a ceasing of all conflict.

Representatives of the Allied nations meet with representatives of the German Empire in Paris and eventually hammered out the Versailles Treaty, identifying the terms of peace.

In the months following the treaty agreement, France and Great Britain were reeling from tremendous casualties during their extended years of combat and the fact that many of their soldiers had been buried in cemeteries on foreign soil. To ease the pain of their citizens, both countries choose to honor all soldiers by creating memorials to an ‘Unknown Warrior,’ each entombing an unidentified soldier in a special ceremony on Armistice Day 1920.

Inspired by the British and French example, U. S. Congressman Hamilton Fish, Jr., NY Great War veteran, introduced a bill creating a similar memorial at Arlington National Cemetery - - the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. After approval by both houses and the signature of President Warren G. Harding in the spring of 1920, construction of the tomb began.

On November 11, 1921, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was dedicated. The ‘unknown’ soldier had been chosen from four U. S. unknowns who had been exhumed from four different cemeteries in France. Sgt. Edward F. Younger of the 50th Infantry, American Forces in Germany, was tasked with choosing the veteran who would be returned home for the ceremonial burial. Sgt. Younger identified his choice by placing a spray of white roses on one casket. He later said that he felt a draw to the second casket, as though he knew the soldier whose body was inside.

The unknown came home via the USS Olympia, arriving at the Washington Navy Yard on November 9 and lying in state at the US Capitol on November 10. Almost 100,000 citizens filed past the flag-draped casket on that day.

On Armistice Day, the nation observed two minutes of silence as the official state funeral began. The Great War Unknown Soldier was awarded the Medal of Honor and buried with honor at Arlington National Cemetery, with President Harding presiding. Congressional members, representatives of the military and thousands of citizens attended.

On this centennial of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the citizens of the United States recognize all those who have served in our armed forces in the commemoration of Veterans Day. A special ceremony will occur at Arlington, remembering all those who lie in graves, names known only to God.

The story of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier will continue . . .

* * *

Linda Moss Mines is the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Historian and Secretary of the Chattanooga Area Veterans Council. She can be reached at localhistorycounts@gmail.com



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