100 years ago, the United States chose to commemorate a different kind of soldier. Not the hero whose exploits were known and witnessed and reported. Not the child whose parents kept a photo on their of the soldier they would never see alive again. Instead, the place of honor in Arlington National Cemetery would go to the soldier that nobody knew.
In America’s Civil War, 750,000 soldiers were killed and it is estimated that half of the dead were not identified. In the first World War, about a half-century later, the machinery of killing was more sophisticated, and 20 million people lost their lives. Repatriating so many dead bodies to their country of origin was, to say the least, unfeasible. Great Britain repatriated one, unknown, soldier and buried him on November 11, 1910, in Westminster Abbey. On the same day, France buried its unknown soldier at the base of the Arc de Triomphe. The American government guaranteed any family who lost a soldier that they would repatriate the body.
On November 11, 1921, one hundred years ago today, the body of one American soldier, who had been exhumed from a grave in France, was given a state funeral ceremony, including a procession through Washington DC and across the Potomac, was awarded the Medal of Honor, and became the first to be interred in the tomb of the unknown soldier.
In November of 1967, navy brat Jim Morrison paid a visit to the tomb of the unknown soldier while his band, The Doors, were in Washington DC for a show. He wrote this song, inspired by that visit:
Wait until the war is over And we're both a little older The unknown soldier Breakfast where the news is read Television children fed Unborn living, living dead Bullet strikes the helmet's head And it's all over For the unknown soldier It's all over For the unknown soldier Make a grave for the unknown soldier Nestled in your hollow shoulder The unknown soldier Breakfast where the news is read Television children fed Bullet strikes the helmet's head And, it's all over The war is over