Tomb of the Unknown Soldier opening to public for first time in decades

Author: CBS NEWS
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (CREDIT: CBS News)

For the first time in decades, members of the public will be allowed to walk on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Plaza — an honor typically reserved for presidents.

“When we’ve seen the president in the past place the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, that’s the same location where the public will be able to place flowers at the tomb,” Gerald Lowe, who coordinates major events at the cemetery, told CBS News’ Catherine Herridge.

The area will be open to the public for the two-day event happening on November 9 and 10 at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. This Veteran’s Day, November 11, marks the sacred site’s 100th anniversary.

The flower ceremony will be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. There is no charge, but online reservations are required.

“An intimacy not only for your everyday American, the American public, but anyone from around the world,” Lowe said.

After World War I, the remains of four unknown service members were exhumed from four American cemeteries in France.

“The U.S. Army went to extreme lengths to ensure that the unknown buried here in the tomb was truly one that could never be identified,” the cemetery’s historian Alison Finklestein said.

In 1921, Sergeant Edward F. Younger made his choice.

“They really wanted to make sure that anybody could connect with that soldier. And that he could have been of any race, any religion. He could have been born in the U.S., or he could have been a recent immigrant,” said Finklestein.

In 1921, the nation was in the midst of armed conflict and reeling from the 1918 Spanish flu. Finklestein said this was “a turning point in American history in many ways.”

Finkelstein said throughout the years memorials evolve, connecting and reconnecting generations, through respect for service.

“We hope it is a place of unity, and that’s certainly how it was intended when they created it in 1921,” she said.

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