Public Can Soon Lay Flowers on Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for the First Time in a Century

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Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery May 6, 2018. (U.S. Army photo by Reese Brown)

The public will be allowed to approach the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and lay flowers on the grave for the first time in nearly 100 years as part of a centennial celebration next month.

Arlington National Cemetery announced that the two-day event will occur Nov. 9-10, just before Veterans Day, and will be free to the public. However, registration will be required.

The public typically is not allowed to approach the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which is guarded day and night by the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as "The Old Guard."

"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," Karen Durham-Aguilera, executive director of Army National Military Cemeteries and Arlington National Cemetery, said in a press release.

The public will be allowed to approach the tomb from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the two commemoration days. Visitors may bring their own flowers, but the cemetery also will provide complimentary roses, daisies and sunflowers.

At 8 a.m. on Nov. 9, a ceremony will be held with members from "the Crow Nation placing flowers at the tomb and reciting the prayer given 100 years ago by American-Indian Chief Plenty Coups," according to the cemetery website.

The marble sarcophagus monument sits on a hill in the national cemetery overlooking the capital. The remains of an unidentified soldier who died in France during World War I -- a symbol of all unidentified U.S. war dead going back to the founding of the country -- was interred there on Nov. 11, 1921.

About 90,000 people attended a public viewing of the unknown soldier in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda the day before the interment, according to Arlington National Cemetery's historical account.

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In 1958, three sets of remains of troops who died in the Korean War and the Europe and Pacific theaters of World War II also were interred at the monument.

Remains from the Vietnam War were added in 1984, but advances in forensic technology led to them being identified more than a decade later as those of Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie, a pilot, who was later moved to a marked grave.

Soldiers from Fort Myer, Virginia, were first to guard the tomb in 1926, just five years after its founding, according to the cemetery.

"The guards, present only during daylight hours, discouraged visitors from climbing or stepping on the Tomb. In 1937, the guards became a 24/7 presence, standing watch over the Unknown Soldier at all times," the cemetery history says.

-- Travis Tritten can be reached at travis.tritten@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Tritten.

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