The Inspiration



“On Memorial Day, 1921, four unknowns were exhumed from four World War I American cemeteries in France. U.S. Army Sgt. Edward F. Younger, who was wounded in combat, highly decorated for valor and received the Distinguished Service Medal in “The Great War, the war to end all wars,” selected the Unknown Soldier of World War I from four identical caskets at the city hall in Chalons-sur-Marne, France, Oct. 24, 1921. Sgt. Younger selected the unknown by placing a spray of white roses on one of the caskets. He chose the third casket from the left. The chosen unknown soldier was transported to the United States aboard the USS Olympia. Those remaining were interred in the Meuse Argonne Cemetery, France.

The Unknown Soldier lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda from his arrival in the United States until Armistice Day, 1921. On Nov. 11, 1921, President Warren G. Harding officiated at the interment ceremonies at the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery.” For more information, visit

Commission Inspiration

Below are links to more comprehensive online histories, as well as a brief annotated bibliography of other resources that touch on the subject and/or influenced the choral commission:

Society of the Honor Guard, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (SHGTUS) website provides an excellent history of the Unknown Soldiers from WWI forward, as well as an understanding of the unique role of those who guard the Tomb:

The Smooth Edges web blog provides an insightful profile of Sergeant Edward F. Younger, chosen to select the Unknown Soldier of WWI, and a history of what transpired before, during, and after that solemn event:

Other Resources

Neil Hanson’s book Unknown Soldiers: The Story of the Missing of the First World War (Knopf, 2007) tells not only the story of the genesis of the Tomb of the Unknown but profiles three soldiers of the war – one each from Britain, Germany, and the United States. A related discussion of the book by the author can be found at this website.

Jami Bryan’s article “Fighting for Respect: African-American Soldiers in WWI.” (On Point, an Army Historical Foundation publication, 2003) provides a brief history of black soldiers who served in the Great War and the social, political, and cultural challenges and opportunities they faced. The article gives a brief reference list to other scholarly treatments of the subject. For online information about this book visit this website.

Voices From the Tomb is an online video and a behind-the-scenes documentary about the history and unique mission of the Tomb Guards who hold vigil over the Unknown Soldiers of WWI, WWII, and Korea.

The Unknowns spotlights the select few chosen to serve as Honor Guards at the Tomb of the Unknown, with particular focus on their rigorous training.


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