On November 11, 1919 President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first Armistice Day to honor those who served and died in what was then known as the Great War. The commemoration would also, in the words of President Wilson, display our “gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations”.
In response to ceremonies to honor unknown war dead in other nations, the United States Congress passed a resolution on March 4, 1921 that established a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. Congress designated that the burial ceremony be held on Armistice Day and on October 24th, Sergeant Edward Younger selected the Unknown Soldier from among four caskets containing the remains of Americans who gave their lives on Europe’s battlefields in the presence of high-ranking American officers and numerous French dignitaries. The Unknown Soldier lay in state for several hours as the citizens of the French city of Chalons-sur-Marne paid their respects. On a flag-draped gun carriage, the casket made a solemn passage to the port of Le Havre where the American cruiser Olympia (C-6), flagship of Admiral Dewey at Manila Bay, awaited to transport the body back to the United States on the ship’s flower decked stern. After Olympia reached the Washington Navy Yard on November 9th, the Unknown Soldier was carried in procession to the U.S. Capitol Rotunda where thousands of people paid homage.
On the morning of November 11, 1921, under military escort, the Unknown Soldier moved to the Arlington National Cemetery. Behind the flag-draped casket walked a procession that included the President of the United States, the vice-president, chief justice and associate justices of the Supreme Court, Medal of Honor recipients, members of congress, the generals of the armies of World War I, and other distinguished officers and veterans. The poignant funeral ceremony included an address by the President of the United States before a brief committal service at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was held in the presence of the President and Mrs. Harding. Three salvos of artillery, the sounding of taps, and the national salute brought the ceremonies to a close.
On June 1, 1954 President Eisenhower signed legislation that changed the name of the federal holiday from Armistice Day to Veteran’s Day and we continue to mark the occasion as a time to pay our respect to all those who have served and sacrificed in the defense of our nation.