Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Open to Public for First Time in 96 Years

Arlington National Cemetery says this probably won't happen again in our lifetimes
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 9, 2021 6:35 PM CST
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Open to Public for First Time in 96 Years
Stacy Wittmeyer, center, kisses her daughter Margaux Wittmeyer, 2, right, both from Springfield, Va., after placing a flower during a centennial commemoration event at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in Arlington National Cemetery, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, in Arlington, Va.   (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

This week, the public is being allowed to lay flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery for the first time in almost a century—and the cemetery says it does not "anticipate holding another event in our lifetimes in which the public will be able to approach the Tomb in this manner." The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Plaza was open to the public from 9am to 4pm Tuesday. It will be open for the same hours on Wednesday, with online reservations required, before a ceremony Thursday marks its 100th anniversary, reports CBS. "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," says Arlington official Gerard Lowe.

President Biden plans to lay a wreath at the site during the invite-only ceremony Thursday. An unidentified American soldier killed in World War I was laid to rest at the site in 1921. Unknown soldiers from World War II and the Korean War were added in later years, though the Vietnam section of the tomb has been empty since 1998, when the body of Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie was identified through DNA testing. The site is considered a memorial for tens of thousands of service members whose final resting place is unknown. According to the Defense Department, more than 81,600 Americans are still missing from World War II and subsequent conflicts, including around 41,000 who are presumed lost at sea.

"As you lay your flower, we at Arlington encourage you to reflect on the meaning of the Tomb. By the simple act of laying a flower, you are not only honoring the three unknowns buried here but all unknown or missing American service members who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our nation," Tim Frank, the cemetery's historian, said at a ceremony Tuesday morning, per CNN. Karen Durham-Aguiler, executive director of Army National Military Cemeteries and Arlington National Cemetery, described it as a "historic and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" She said members of the public have not been allowed to approach the tomb for 96 years. (More Tomb of the Unknown Soldier stories.)

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