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Before Veterans Day this Thursday, members of the public received a special opportunity when a section of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier became available earlier this week for people to visit in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the memorial site.
The unique act of remembrance that many people got to take part in will likely not happen any time in the near future.
“We do not anticipate holding another event in our lifetimes in which the public will be able to approach the Tomb in this manner,” officials said, per NPR.
As reported on Tuesday by NBC News, “The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Plaza on the hallowed ground of Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia is usually reserved for the sentinels who stand guard, as well as presidents and other dignitaries presenting wreaths or flowers.”
In a statement, Arlington National Cemetery explained the commemorative action:
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Centennial Commemoration Public Flower Ceremony, a two-day event, will be free and open to the public. Visitors will be able to personally pay their respects to the Unknown Soldiers. This is a rare opportunity for the public to walk next to the Tomb—a privilege otherwise given only to the Sentinels of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, “The Old Guard.”
As reported by CNN on Tuesday, “It’s the first time in 96 years that visitors have been allowed to approach the Tomb, according to Karen Durham-Aguilera, the executive director of Army National Military Cemeteries and Arlington National Cemetery.”
“The next two days will truly be a historic and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she said Tuesday morning, initiating the beginning of the event.
Members of the public were encouraged by Tim Frank, the Arlington National Cemetery’s historian, “to reflect on the meaning of the Tomb” as they laid down their flowers.
Frank said on Tuesday, “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.”
Arlington National Cemetery explained the memorial site’s history:
For 100 years, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier has served as the heart of Arlington National Cemetery. As a sacred memorial site and the grave of three unknown American service members, the Tomb connects visitors with the legacy of the United States armed forces throughout the nation’s history. It stands as a people’s memorial that inspires reflection on service, valor, sacrifice and mourning. Since November 11, 1921, the Tomb has provided a final resting place for one of America’s unidentified World War I service members, and Unknowns from later wars were added in 1958 and 1984.
Throughout 2021, Arlington National Cemetery is holding a series of commemorative events, exhibits and ceremonies that will culminate on November 11 in conjunction with the National Veterans Day Observance. We welcome you to join in the commemoration of the centennial of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“There will also be a joint service flyover with aircraft from all branches of the military, along with an invite-only wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which President Biden is scheduled to attend.”
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Day is celebrated on November 11th due to the fact that “an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany [after World War I] went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of ‘the war to end all wars.’”
It added, “[a]n Act […]approved May 13, 1938, made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday—a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day,’” later to be called “Veterans Day.”