By Phil Riddick
Madison County Commissioner
From time to time there are important historical milestones that come and go, and often, we miss them completely. For instance, this year is the 100th Anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. There are many monuments and memorials erected to our identified fallen soldiers, but in the United States, we also honor our unidentified fallen soldiers.
The significance of World War I was certainly monumental in history, but it was so long ago, that it is lost to the consciousness of many. Although most of our World War II veterans are no longer with us, many still reside in our neighborhoods as well as others who were alive during that conflict. Not so for World War I. However, we have many traditions that came out of World War I. Last year was the 100th Anniversary of Veteran’s Day which began as Armistice Day. This year we have the 100th Anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Solider.
The idea started in Great Britain when they began honoring the British Unknown Warriors in 1920 at a national level with a grave that included a national monument. The idea quickly spread among the allies. In the United States, it began on Memorial Day in 1921, when the caskets of four unknown soldiers were exhumed from their graves in France and returned to the United States.
A single highly decorated World War I veteran was given the honor of selecting one the caskets to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The selected casket was laid at the Capitol rotunda and remained until midnight of November 10, 1921. The following day, Veteran’s Day, it was taken by procession to the cemetery and permanently laid to rest.
Many Presidents and well know heroes are buried at Arlington National Cemetery but none receives more yearly visitors than the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. Grateful citizens want to pay their respects, but perhaps the greatest reason is to witness the iconic changing of the guard. Since April 6, 1948, the Tomb has been guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
The Sentinels are handpicked and rigorously trained. Having witnessed the guards change at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, I encourage all to visit this site while in Washington, D.C. Huntsville consistently honors the United States military. Please take time to read about this part of our nation’s history.