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tv   World War I the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier  CSPAN  November 11, 2018 9:30am-10:36am EST

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we're using spectrum in the millimeterwave range. there's a lot of it. when you have a lot of spectrum what that translates to is speed. >> watch the communicators monday night >> retired u.s. army sergeant major gavin mcilvenna talks about the creation of the tomb f the unknown soldier at arlington national cemetery following world war i. a founder and president of the society of the honor guard, he describes the changing of the guard ceremony and reflects on the meaning of the monument. the national world war i museum and memorial hosted the hour long event. >> now it is my pleasure to introduce sergeant major retired gavin mcilvenna, the 11th president of the society of the honor guard tomb of the unknown soldier. retired from the u.s. army after early 23 years of service,
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where he held key leadership positions, led peace and the contingency operations and earned several decorations and as i watched him walk through the halls on an incompetent credibly busy memorial day, you can just pick him out of a crowd as a member of the military just for his posture alone. in 1999, sergeant retired mcilvenna was one of four former team guards to create nonprofit organization, society of the honor guard, tomb of the unknown soldier, where he served as the first secretary. after retiring in 2012 he served as a state trooper in oregon where he was a medic team leader for the o.s.c. special operations amongst other positions. currently he still serves in the
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army reserve and is a life member of the v.f.w. which we are pleased to be the home of here. ladies and gentlemen, please help me in welcoming sergeant major retired gavin mcilvenna. [applause] >> thank you for that introduction. i truly appreciate it. thank you for all the help that you provided getting me ready for this, and rob, for introducing me to the national world war i museum and memorial. my name is gavin mcilvenna. i am a retired sergeant major. during a portion of my time, i ad the distinct honor to guard the tomb of the unknown soldier as the commander of the relief for first relief as well as assistant sergeant of the guard, probably about the midway point f my career. as laura had mentioned i became
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one of the first four members to create the society of the honor guard tomb of the unknown soldier. we are all volunteer made of the current and lifetime americans. our primary goal is to educate people about the unknown soldiers that buried in arlington national cemetery, about the process each of them went through. i was going to introduce some slides about world war i, but after coming through the museum on memorial day, i decided i would pull those slides because i would really like to be invited back. if you haven't been through, this is a beautiful facility. they have great displays and you can certainly learn an awful lot about the -- why the war started and why we became involved in it. what i would like to talk to you today is about the tomb of the
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unknown soldier, kind of take you through the process of each of the unknown soldiers as well as a little bit about the sentinels. the picture that you see here is one of my favorites, one of the earlier photos we had, this is in 1929. this is what the tomb originally looked like. keeping in mind that we are talking about the 1920's and most of us back then probably didn't own a car. getting on a train was probably a challenge. certainly traveling out of our country and going overseas. so you can imagine the families, how they felt when they put their loved one on that train in uniform to go off to a foreign war and then never return. where do they go to remember them? they don't have a grave. they might have one overseas, but again we are talking about the early 1920's where travel overseas was very difficult. so i can imagine the anguish and heartache of each of those
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family members not being able to on a day like yesterday, memorial day, to go and visit them and say whatever they needed to say to them. the tomb of the unknown soldier is that place in america, regardless of the conflict, regardless of our demographics, you can go and pay your respects to all of the soldiers that have fallen in defense of this nation and all of the soldiers that unfortunately will fall in its continued defense. let's talk about the tomb for a bit. the unknown soldier idea ctually started with great britain and france in 1920. after the war, both of those nations wanted to find a way to honor the sacrifice of so many soldiers during the conflict. now, how many of you have been to westminster abbey? a few, ok.
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that is where the unknown soldier from great britain lays. and the interesting thing about westminster abbey is that, as you walk through there, you may look down at some point and find yourself standing on the grave of a king, but not the unknown soldier. it's the one grave you can't walk across in westminster abbey. anybody know where the french unknown soldier happens to be uried? gold star veterans came to a gentleman by the name of congressman hamilton fish and said, why haven't we done this? we're americans. we need to do this kind of a thing. we sent so many of our sons overseas, and so many of them didn't return am we need to find
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a way to do something very similar. congressman fish was actually a captain during world war i. he fought with the harlem hell fighters, who, as you go through the museum here, you'll find that their history is very high. the french love them. they were warriors in battle, and they have quite the reputation of being vicious fighters. he was moved by the sentiment of asking for something similar to be done. he felt that that was the absolutely the right thing to do. so he introduced a bill into congress, and he said we need to do something similar. we want to find an unknown american soldier who served in the american expeditionary forces and bring them home and bury them in our own land. brought in people like general pershing to the congressional hearings and they pled their case to congress, and congress agreed. and in march of 1920, president wilson actually signed into law the congressional order saying that that's what needs to happen. that we will bring home an unidentified american who served in the american expeditionary forces and died in battle, and we will place him in the
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tomb. unknown soldier. the original idea was to make that happen around may of 1921, memorial day. the task for finding an unknown soldier from all of the different graves in france fell to the united states army's quarter master core. back in these days, remember, where a soldier fell is most likely where they were buried. just as in the revolutionary war all the way through this time frame. so those soldiers were in make-shift graves, make-shift cemeteries, and then at some point they were shifted to larger american cemeteries. so you can imagine there's probably not a lot of paperwork trail from where they first were laid to where they were when the selection process happened. we also don't have the great technology of d.n.a. guys don't run around with name tags or dog tags. they don't have the d.n.a. in the system like they do now for he soldiers. so if they had laid in their
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grave for six months to a year, who knows how easily we could have identified them. the mandate was to find the soldiers that had passed, make sure that they died of combat wounds, that they were american, and there's no way to identify hem. so they originally decided to go head and get eight different candidates, and through the process, they went to each of the four primary cemeteries were americans were buried in france. out of that, they came down to a selection of four. they transported those four from each of their individual cemeteries, under escort, to a different town, where the hotel is, and that's the seat for the city. it's where the mayor lives. when they did that, they brought them into one room, and they're all in identical coffins with identical flags on them, and
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they promptly shifted all 69 caskets, all the documents saying this one came from this cemetery were collected and destroyed, so there's no possible way to know that the one in the right hand corner of the room came from this cemetery. and a guard was put on what we call a death watch. so now we have our unknown soldiers that constantly have a vigil standing over them to make sure they are safe. somewhere in the night, when the guard change happened, the coffins were shifted again, to ensure that nobody knew anywhere that they came from. originally it was going to be an officer that had served during the war that was going to make this final selection. but that officer said i don't want to do that. i think that the person that needs to do this is somebody that fought hard in the trenches next to them, and he felt that sergeant younger, sergeant edward f. younger, also buried in arlington national cemetery, was the perfect person for this,
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and truly he was. he fought in every one of the major campaigns. he was wounded by artillery fire. he was wounded by machine gunfire. he fought and helped bury the deed in each one of the cemeteries where the bodies came from. so he had personal ties to every single one of them. but this is a pretty big task. how would you like to show up onday morning to work and say, oh, by the way, this is what you're going to do for the ation. so it's a little bit of ressure. want to read a quote to you that sergeant younger talked about when he looked at having to do this. said, i was left alone in the chapel. there were four covens. all unnamed.
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all unmarked. i walked around the coffins three times, and then suddenly i stopped. what caused me to stop, i do not know. it was though something had pulled me. i placed the roses on the coffin in front of me, and i can still remember the odd feeling that i had standing there alone with the unknown soldiers. third casket from the left is the one that he selected to represent all of the missing and dead from world war i, our unknown soldier had been selected. the other three caskets were returned to the graves, the cemeteries there in france, and were buried under a simple headstone that said unknown american soldier. the body was placed into a brand-new casket, brand-new flag placed over t. the guard was still there. and then the rooms was opened up so the french people could come in and pay their respects to this unknown american. and if you think about it, ever since the revolution, the united states and france have kind of always been there, haven't they? in one way or another. whether we're supporting them or they're supporting us. well, this is the first time that american soldiers have gone to france and defended their nation and helped liberate them. so they truly felt that power and a bond with that soldier.
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and it was an outpouring of respect that was shown. the unknown soldier, the very next day in october of 1921 was given appropriate military ceremonies. it was put on a train, and he headed to the other port, where he was going embark on the u.s.s. olympia for his final voyage home. now, the french are very good at ceremony. they've been doing it for a lot longer than we have, and they did it right this day as well. just before the unknown soldier was taken aboard the u.s.s. olympia, they presented him with their nation's highest award for valor. it's the least they felt they could do for someone who had given up their life, as well as their identity, to defend their nation. once the unknown soldier was placed aboard the u.s.s. olympia, again, placed under
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military guard by the united states marine corps and the united states navy, and began the long voyage home from october into early november. once here, he went into the potomac. now, you can imagine back in the day, having one of these very large battleships cruise up the potomac, it must have been quite the sight to see, especially when it's one of the great white fleet, so it's painted white t. probably just stood out. once they arrived at the navy yard in washington, d.c., they stopped at pier number 3 and began the process of removing the unknown soldier from the olympia. for those of thaw love music, they played the funeral march as he was carried off the ship. you know how powerful that music is. and then as soon as the body bearers touched the pier, our national anthem began to play. and our soldier was home. he went from the pier up to the united states capitol under appropriate ceremonies, and he
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laid in state. now, i cannot remember the name of how to pronounce this, but does anybody know what this is called? a beer. there's a more appropriate name for it. but this is the exact same platform that president lincoln laid upon when he laid in state. it's the exact same platform that garfield and john f. kennedy and each of the unknowns lay upon. we'll talk about that more when we get into the double interment for world war ii and the korean war for the unknown soldier. this was the opportunity for americans to now pay their respects, and thousands upon thousands did, filing in. think about the veterans that did that that don't know who's in that casket, their buddy that didn't come home from war. and world war i was a horrific war. advances in technology made it incredibly lethal to where
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identifying bodies was difficult. all those families that couldn't be there, at least they knew that people were paying respects. he laid in state for a couple of days, and then on november 11 he began the final transition. coming down out of the capitol, he made the transition on to a cason, a horse-drawn carriage, and carried into arlington. one of the interesting things about the ceremony at this time was that everybody's here got a cell phone, right? you can get on the internet. you can google something. you can watch something live, right? back then, none of that was there. how did people get their news? newspaper, right? which would always mean that it was after the fact. or if they were lucky enough and have radio broadcast. well, the precursor to at&t and the bell corporation did something very revolutionary during this time.
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they actually placed a phone call, a live phone call from the time the unknown soldier left the capitol building till the time he was buried in arlington national cemetery. they didn't record it, unfortunately, so we can't hear what it sounded like, but you can imagine the commentator having to describe what he's seeing through the entire process. and it was played in new york city, in san francisco, and there in washington, d.c., so millions of americans got to experience this. and during the ceremonies in arlington national cemetery, there was something called the national salute. it's something that society has been working on to try to get reinstituted every november 11 here across the united states, been working on it for three or four years, and it's something you can help us with. it's very simple. on november 11, 1921, they paused for a minute to remember all of the dead from world war i. and then they continued that pause for another full minute to think about all the soldiers
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that in the future are going to die for our nation. and then they ended it by playing taps, something very simple that you can do in your communities by ringing bells 21 times, pausing to remember all of your communities' veterans that didn't make it home, and then playing taps. i encourage you to join us across the nation as we do this this year and continuing up to toe 21. president harding gives the eulogy, and i want to read something that he talked about in 1921. he said, "we are meant here today to pay the impersonal tribute. the name of him whose body lies before us took flight with his imperishable soul. we know not whence he came, but only that his death marks him with the everlasting glory of an american dying for his
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country. hundreds of mothers are wondering today, finding a touch of solace in the possibility that this nation vows in grief over the one that she bore, to live and to die if need be for the republic." and with that, he conferred upon our unknown soldier the congressional medal of honor, our nation's highest award for valor. there were other nations present there to witness this, and each one of them came forward and did the exact same thing. and this is one of the first times -- and i'm going to have to double check, but i'm pretty sure it's the only time -- that an american has received the victorian cross, the british highest award for valor. at the same time, the belgian commander representing his nation had a nice little box with his nation's highest award, but instead of using that one, he was so overcome with emotion that he ripped the award off of his own chest and placed it on the casket of our unknown
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soldier. because, again, americans helped liberate his nation. he was carried from the memorial amphitheater down to where he lays today, and just before being placed into the ground, a gentleman by the name of chief plenty coup who represented the native american nations placed upon our unknown soldier the war bonnet. and if you know anything about native american tradition, you'll understand that that is a great honor. as he was lowered into the ground, there's something that most people don't understand or don't know about, but underneath where he actually laid inside that crypt is two inches of soil from france, the same battlefield that he fought in. he cap was placed. and the unknown soldier was inally home. what you see in some of the older pictures is this very
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beautiful, simple headstone. very flat. and if you look at the vistas, you see washington, d.c., there. you see the lincoln memorial and the capitol building or the white house, right? well, back then, think about people that were coming into the cemetery to pay their suspects. maybe they don't understand what this was. so, unfortunately, about 1925, the veteran of the war comes around the corner to pay his respects to the unknown soldier, and what does he find? somebody having a picnic on that big white marble flat piece. if there's veterans in the room, i know what your response would have been. it would have been the same as mine. probably just as colorful. to let them know that what you're doing is inappropriate. however, this person went down to the white house, knocked on the door, walked in and told the man, this is wrong, you got to do something it, something we all probably wish we could do today going down to the white house and talking to the
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president. the president said you're absolutely right, that is wrong. we need to fix it. congress had originally intended to put something on top of the grave, some sort of sarcophagus. so, immediately, a civilian guard was placed on duty, during the hours the cemetery was open, to make sure that none of this tom foolery would happen again. and they started the process of designing what is now what you see, the tomb of the unknown soldier. one of the interesting things that people may get a misconception of in the media, you hear them refer to the tomb of the unknown soldier as tomb of the unknowns. right? there's one tomb, this one, 12 feet down is the unknown soldier from world war i. that is the tomb of the unknown soldier. these crypts, which are to the west of the tomb, and there's a third one over here, they're not part of the tomb. they're their own separate graves. unknown soldiers from different wars are buried in those.
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so when they say tomb of the unknowns, not exactly correct. it's tomb of the unknown soldier. the marble itself came from colorado. it was about a 75-ton block. you can imagine back in those days that transporting a huge, solid block of marble was probably a technical challenge r a logical challenge. you had to dig it out of the mountain, which took about 75 guys to do, somehow somewhere it down without breaking it, putting it on horse-drawn carriage, which i'm assuming you would need a lot, get it down to the train station for probably a very bumpy ride all the way to washington, d.c. the same people that carved the lincoln statue now had one chance to get this right, because the whole process is going to be difficult if they screw it up, right? so on the tomb itself, on the north and south side, you're going see invented wreaths.
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now, these inverted wreaths represent the six major battle campaigns of world war i. they're inverted to represent mourning. the west side of it is what people think today is the front of the tomb, because it's got the words written on it that everybody sees, and that's where people lay wreaths. but the front side is actually on the east side, and it has three figures. it's a beautiful carving into the marble, and each of these figures represents peace, valor, and victory. and you can see that their hands are intertwined, because peace, valor, and victory are all intertwine when had it comes to the sacrifices made during world war i. so it's kind of blocked off to where you can't walk up and get a good view of it, but there are some great pictures out there that give you the detail of it, and it is truly an amazing carving on the tomb.
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so in 1926, we saw the civilian guards transition to military guard. again, just during the time that the arlington national cemetery was open. and you went from the original tomb itself to the much larger tomb. chains were a lot closer during those times, and when they put the put the mats in they're walking on today, you could actually walk up and across, walk across the sentinel, see whether or not they are doing their duty, and over time those chains have been pushed back further and further. during my time i was down there, there's no way you could get up that close and personal to the sentinels. the war to end all wars, right? world war i. the great war. we're not going to do it again. it's a war that changed the world, definitely made america a power player on this world stage. well, unfortunately, we tend to
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ot learn from war, and world war ii started. again, covering the globe, two different theaters. and by the time the war was over, the veterans said we need to do something very similar. we need to have an unknown soldier placed in arlington next to the original unknown soldier. and one of the draft plans called for almost an exact duplicate of the tomb as you see it, just kind of side by side now. they said, all right, we're going to do that. congress agreed and said 1951 is when we're going to make that happen. what happens in 1950? the korean war. i'm sure some of the veterans in this war, thank you for your service during that conflict. war started. everything gets put on the shelf. they take care of the war. 1953 is done. the veterans say, all right, we're done. we need to do this, and congress said, you're right, we're going
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to do it, but we're going to do a double internment. so the logical challenges were still there. you had to find candidate soldiers, much like was done in 1921, in both the pacific and europe kwan theaters. at some point we're going to have to find a way to bring them together and make a final selection. they went through roughly the same process, cemeteries in france and throughout the european theater, selected soldiers that they could not identify, except for the fact that they were american and they died in combat. they made a selection. for the transatlantic. they did the same thing in hawaii for the trans-pacific. within days, they also did the same thing for the korean war unknown soldier. that was designated in hawaii. the trans-pacific candidate was also designated in hawaii.
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after the appropriate ceremonies, they brought the unknown soldier, the candidate from the transatlantic aboard the u.s.s. boston. so they flew them from france to guantanamo bay, cuba, placed it on the u.s.s. boston, and started transiting to the virginia shoreline. the trans pacific and korean war unknown soldiers were flown to the united states, landing in travis air force base -- i'm sorry, yes, landing in travis air force base, and then coming across to virginia, where they were put aboard the u.s.s. blandy. those ships all met at sea. about 7 owe, 75 miles off the virginia capes. do they have any navy veterans in the audience? then you probably know better than i transferring something at sea is a logical nightmare, with high lines and ropes, moving ocean, at speed. well, this wasn't just food or
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supplies that they were transitioning. they actually did the process of moving the bodies from one ship to another. so they brought all of them aboard the u.s.s. canberra. they immediately separated the korean war unknown soldier and placed a guard upon him with the united states marines, and the two candidates were placed into a room, transferred into identical caskets, flags were draped upon them. they were shuffled about, and the guard was posted for over a day, and sometime during there, they would come in, and they would shuffle them some more, so there's no possible way to know that this casket came from this ship, i.e., coming from this theater of operation. they brought him out on to the fan tail of the u.s.s. canberra, where the final selection was made for the world war ii unknown soldier, selected a soldier or the casket that was to the right of the korean war unknown soldier.
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so this is the korean war unknown soldier, already designated in the center, and those were the two candidates. having never seen it, only read it in books or seen it in the movies, i'm sure it's very impressive and very moving, but that candidate that was not once this was done, both of the unknown soldiers were then transferred back to another ship for transport back up to the potomac. where they arrived in may 28 and started the process that was just like what happened in 1921, with the world war ii soldier coming off the ship first, followed by the korean war unknown soldier, making the ceremonial transit to the capitol building, where they lay in state. now, there's only one fear that caskets would lay upon, so that was a second one created, and as the soldiers lay in state for two days on this second day, they made the transition so each of the unknown soldiers lie that specific pier. again, thousands of americans
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paid their respects to our unknown soldiers. filing in, and then following the ceremony as they were taken by caisson to arlington national cemetery, where again, they were both awarded the congressional medal of honor and laid to rest. the question i have for you is, during the military ceremony, when you have the flag across the casket, it gets folded, and who's the next of kin for the unknown soldiers? who's there to accept that awesome responsibility? in this case, it's the president of the united states. so world war i is president harding. in world war ii, president dwight d. eisenhower, most fitting, because he was the supreme allied commander during the war. vice president richard nixon was the next of kin for the korean war unknown soldier, and fast forward to 1984, president reagan was the next of kin for
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the vietnam unknown soldier for the 14 years that he was in designated. this is what, in 1958, the tomb of the unknown soldier looked like. again, the tomb where world war i is buried, and world war ii and the korean war unknown soldier. in 1984, america was dealing with the issues of the vietnam war, and you have to admit, we didn't treat our soldiers very well. not like today. when i came home from the war, it was vastly different. and there was plenty of political pressure to find and designate an unknown soldier from the vietnam conflict. if you've ever had the opportunity to listen to colonel patricia, give her presentation about what they are family went through as the government identified her brother as an unknown soldier and laid him in
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arlington national cemetery, i suggest you go on youtube and listen to her story. needless to say, in 1984, they knew who the unknown soldier was, but because of politics, they went ahead with the ceremony, following the same traditions that were done in 1921, and 1958, designating a set of remains as that vietnam unknown soldier, in hawaii, bringing them home to the united states, going through the same process and burying them in between the korean and the world war ii unknown soldiers on may 30, 1984. fast forward to 1998. that's when i was down there. you i was a relief commander for first relief, and they did the disinterment of the vietnam unknown soldier. so the family said we would like to have the unknown soldier disinterred so we can test with d.n.a. to make sure that that's our son in that grave.
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for me, personally, there's four unknown soldiers. every time i look at the tomb, there's four unknown soldiers. because i got the privilege of guarding that unknown soldier as he represented all of the fallen and missing from that conflict. at the same time, i truly understand how the families' closure was necessary. and they were able to take their son and their brother home and bury them in the st. louis national cemetery. the process for getting the unknown soldier out of where he was buried was very arduous. the company that put him in, you have a casing, the crypt itself. there's a concrete cover over the top, and that's sealed to prevent damage. and then the marble crypt cover that you see was placed on top. and when the company put them in, they said, we're doing such a good job, they'll never come out.
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well, 1998, they probably came back and said we need you to do this. and it wasn't until about 12:00 or 3:00 in the morning that they finally were able to break that concrete seal without damaging anything else and finally get the unknown's casket up and out. and the commanding general at the time was major general robert foley. he's a medal of honor recipient from vietnam. he's about 6'6", someone that whenever he came down to the quarters, we would be looking up to as tomb guards. he turned around, and he pointed to a couple of sentinels and said i need to you get in there, lift the casket out. as tomb guards, our mission is to protect the tomb from any disrespect. nobody touches the tomb of the unknown soldier. nobody touches the crypts. we don't allow that. that's our mission, as dictated by congress. so for the general to say get in there and touch this casket was mind-blowing for those two sentinels. and they balked.
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and the general said, look, it's really easy. you're going to do it as tomb guards. i'm going to have the construction workers do it. soldiers did what they were supposed to do. they got in there, and i can tell you from personal experience, having talked to them, it did mess with their mind thinking about i've been protecting everybody from touching this, and now here i am handling the casket. and lifting the body out. it messed with them. the ceremonies were conducted the next morning. and it was difficult to stand on the side of the plaza watch as my brother was taken away, someone that i had stood the watch over, someone that i had protected for even the very short period of time that i was there, which is why every time i look at the tomb of the unknown soldier, i still see four unknown soldiers. the crypt cover was re-engraved to talk about how we're honoring and keeping faith with america's missing service men. the crypt itself remains empty.
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there's nothing in there. we still provide the honors, and we still do flags in and lay wreaths there as if there's an unknown soldier buried in that crypt. we still believe that. let's quickly talk about the old guard. now, this is the unit, the unit that has been given responsibility in 1948 to be escort to the president of the united states, as well as assume the duties of the platoon, the drill team, and the tomb of the unknown soldier. it is the oldest infantry regiment, and it is quite an honor to be a part of this regiment. to join, you have to apply within the army. and not everybody can make it. you've got to meet those height and weight requirements and be recommended for it. and don't look at my waistline. i don't meet those -- i meet the height requirements, but not the weight requirements anymore. i'm retired, so i get a little break there. once you go to the regiment,
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you're assigned a minimum of three years, a mandatory tour, and then you can try out for each of the platoons, and one of them being the tomb of the unknown soldier. being in the society provides me the unique opportunity of engaging with tomb guards that have served across multiple generations. in fact, one of our oldest members walked down there in 1937. one of my best friends served down there in 1958. he was a relief commander for first relief. he was a staff sergeant. he was a staff sergeant. we were both born on may 11. a lot earlier than me, but when i sit and i talk to jim about his experiences as a relief commander in 1958, they were the same as my experiences as a relief commander in 1998. it's truly a unique organization where i have an instant bond with a fellow sentinel that may have served at a time different than i, and we have common ground.
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so all these sentinels that are down there, young guys today, men and women today, have that instant bond. we talk about the relief, we talk about the changing of the guard. we talk about the ceremony, and we discover that it's the same. a little modification such as weapons, like an m-1 as compared to an m-14. and so when i was doing a little youand so when i was doing a little more research to set up the slide show, i came across a great old video, or a movie, i guess, back in 1960. now, anyone that has been in the military and has gone through a reception have seen those propaganda done by their services that tell you about what not to do, what to do, those kinds of things. they got great music playing in the background, being anyway rated by somebody. this is the same thing. it's called the big picture. and this is a very small clip of what it looked like to change the guard in 1960. and if you've ever been to the tomb of the unknown soldier and seen a current changing, you're going to see there's not much of
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a change here. so with that, i want you to watch the big picture. >> 24 hours a day, every day of the year, this, too, is an honor for which the first battle group infantry has been chosen. today, besides the grave of an unknown soldier of world war i, lie an unknown serviceman of world war ii. and another who fell in the korean war. in the guard room beneath the amphitheater at arlington seminary, men of the honor guard company wait their turn. they carry out duties essential to the perfection surrounding every aspect of the tomb guard's mission.
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>> when the time comes to change the guard, the new man is ready in every detail for assignment. >> young men of the old guard are conscious of the traditional ceremony that holds such deep meaning to all americans. >> for this assignment, each man must be a volunteer, the record
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of each man who guards the tomb must be of the highest caliber. >> perpetual guard, a highly esteem the responsibility of the third infantry.
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what the new guard begins a tour of duty that keeps alive the symbol of sacrifice. >> the guard change hasn't been modified too much, and quite honestly, standing here with this giant screen behind me, i actually felt like i was back there on the plaza there. we as sentinels hope the public are as able to look throughs, because we're just the backstop, and see the tomb see the unknown , soldiers, and understand why we guard them. to preserve that memory, to honor their sacrifice. we're doing a simple guard change as dictated by the army, a little modification to make it
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a little sharper. guards have a way of trying to perfect everything that we do. in 1921, there was no guards again. 1926, or 1925, you had civilian guards. in 1926, the first military guards. on april 2, 1937, we started the 24-hour guards. and since that time, the unknown soldiers have never been left alone. when you wake up in the middle of the night and you go to the kitchen to get a glass of water and you're looking out your kitchen window, you know at that very moment there's a young man or woman standing watch at the tomb of the unknown soldier. doesn't matter the rain, snow, hurricanes, throw the bad weather at us, we love it. the best time up there. i personally loved being up there at nighttime when there was no crowd and you get to ponder who they are, where they came from, how they died. and how their families are doing now that they can't go to a specific grave.
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the training at the tomb consists of three different areas that we work on. one is obviously our performance, the mission, the reason that we're there. they perfect the guard change. they do wreath ceremonies. we do briefings. obviously to the public. we assist the public when they view the ceremonies, as well as our nation's leaders and foreign heads of state come and lay wreaths at the tomb of the unknown soldier. the platoon is broken down into three different reliefs, and you can tell by their height. so the third relief is our short relief. they're about 5'11" to 6'0". second relief is 6'0" to 6'2". and my relief is 6'2" and above. when they're out there walking on the mat, you have uniformity across the board, and everyone should look about the same. we notice it as tomb guards when there's a change in the two shifts that are coming up,
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because we can see the height difference. we can also tell by the color of the stock sometimes that they're sharing. members of the regiment, regardless of their sex or their m.o.s., are eligible to try out for the tomb of the unknown soldier. so you have to volunteer for the regiment. you have to volunteer to go down there. and about 90% attrition rate is what happens. just because of the training process. learning the duty is difficult. part of that is the uniform standards. we take the standards, as derived by the army, and we just take them a little bit further and make them sharper. we don't do this to draw attention to ourselves. whenever you see a sentinel along the map, the black map in the back of the tomb, and they're walking back and forth, you'll notice there's no rank on their uniform. we don't know the rank of the unknown soldiers. we'll never outrank them. even if i'm out there walking on
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the mat, i will do it with no rank. the process to get our uniforms up to what we consider a standard are pretty difficult. anyone that's been in the military was probably issued good, old-fashioned leather loafers. these are the same thing we have, except we have built up the base on them to protect us from the heat and cold of the marble. we put metal cheaters on the inside, so when we do heat clicks, we're not smacking our ankle bones together, which is very painful, i can tell you. and then we shine them to make them look like patent leather, and it takes hours. when i first started doing this, it took me about eight hours to get the shoe somewhere where i thought was kind of close, and my trainer looked at it, laughed, and threw it doubt hallway, so it wasn't anywhere near close. and over time, i learned the techniques and the tricks to make it look like glass. and i could get them down to about two hours a shoe. and they weigh about five pounds apiece.
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i still have my trainers with all the nicks and scars on them, and it's still fun to be able to stand up and walk around them in and feel like they're back there. the uniforms are full wool, winter uniforms, because they tend to hold the creases a lot better. but in the summertime, if you've been to d.c., you know that it's a swamp, not just politically, it's literally a swamp. and so the humidity in the summertime is horrible. and about 3:00, 3:10 every afternoon, what happens in washington, d.c.? it rains. because the humidity just gets so bad. but that heavy wool uniform really looks good when you press it, so that's what they use. the other portion of the testing process to become a tomb guard is learning a various amount of knowledge. i got my briefing book down here, but you can imagine a book of this size with 12 different poems, 200 different grades listed on it, and i think it's
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about 200 and some odd different questions. every beak you have to memorize that. the next week, they're going to give me another page, if you're able to recite that verbatim again. and it just builds and builds and builds. so part of the knowledge happened when people would come into the cemetery and say, there's audi murphy buried? well, the tomb guards were supposed to know that. so he's buried over here. well, can you show me how? of course i can show you, or i can tell you. and then where's j.f.k.? where's lee marvin, all those names that, as you walk through the cemetery, you can see the people that impacted our nation. and so that's where our list of about 200 came, and now we have known not only where they are, but how to get there in the middle of the night, and something about those individuals. when we take our test, they take our book from us. and they make us stand at attention in our uniform, and they do our uniform inspection, and they say recite your knowledge, go.
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and from the very first word to the very last word, we have to recite it verbatim, page after page after page t. takes about an hour. and when we're done with that, as if that wasn't difficult enough, they hand us a piece of paper, and with 100 questions on it, they say now write it out. and don't miss a pronunciation or comma or letter because each one of those is points against you, and you have to get 95% past the written test. it takes about seven to 12 months to earn the tomb guard identification badge. now, this badge is the third least awarded badge. it used to be the second least awarded until the horsemanship badge was created, and the badge itself takes a lot of what you see on the tomb of the unknown soldier into its design. you have the inverted wreaths. you have the three figures on the front of it, peace, victory, and valor.
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the words honor guard are written across the board, because we are a guard of honor for these unknown soldiers. just out of curiosity, does anybody know what the least awarded army badge might be? who said it? astronaut badge, fantastic. there's just not a lot of ground pounders running around in space. we anticipate giving or awarding the tomb guard identification badge to about five to six sentinels a year, because it's takes so long to go through the process, and for them to meet the standard that we expect to see out of them. this is also the only badge that can be revoked after you leave the military. so i decide for one day to do something crazy, like, i don't know, sell a bunch of drugs or whatever, and i get busted by the cops. this badge can be revoked, removed from my military record, even though i've been retired from the military for many years.
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down in the quarters, we have a large badge board that lists every sentinel to receive it, and on it, there will somebody that simply say revoked. each one of them are numbered. so if you ever go to the tomb and you see the badge board you'll see number 457, that's mine. i'm not saying that since then there's only been, i think we're up to 658 oar 659 badges issued, because that happened in 1958. but tomb guards have been around, people guarding the tomb, 24 hours a day since 1937. there just wasn't a badge created at that time. this is one of the things on a tomb guard's uniform you will not touch. the other one being their shoes, not unless up to the get into a fist fight. the sentinel's creed is something we live by, even now that i've left the military. one of the lines in our sentinel's creed talks about my
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standard will remain perfection. i take that to heart in everything that i do. everything that i learn when i was down to the tomb, i transition over. it drives my wife crazy sometimes, but that's just the way it was beat into me, and i will continually carry that sentinel's creed over and over and over again. in 2021, there's going to be a centennial celebration for the 100th anniversary of the original burial of the tomb of the unknown soldier. we're working with the federal government and other agencies such as world war i, national museum and memorial, to try to bring some of the stories about the unknown soldiers to life, because we all know when they left france, and they arrived in washington, d.c., but what happened in the middle? and how can we as a nation suddenly come together as a community of communities, and positive and remember november 11 and the national salute.
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if you ever feel like you would like to help us out, just simply to our website and look for the centennial information, and we would be glad to have you supporting us right there next to us, because we are part of you. this is your national shrine. this is the place where you can go and pause and reflect upon the sacrifices of so many americans over so many different conflicts. with that i think we have time to open it up for questions. >> if you're not able to come down, flag me and i can come up to you. >> well, i know everyone has seen the email going around that says we don't drink and we don't curse and we remain celebrate for the rest of our lives. i want you want to ask that question. i know you do. >> started with high expectations, how you were just ending, and so high expectations
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for really good questions. >> how long is your shift? >> how long is the shift? >> yeah, thank you. >> perfect. no, i'm sorry i didn't cover that. it's a great question. so when the cemetery is open in the summertime, the shifts were assembled to half an hour. and in that half an hour, they will walk the mat, 21 times, or 21 paces, along the mat, they'll pause and face the tomb for 21 seconds. there's lot of 21's built into that. does anybody know why 21 is such an important number for us? 21-gun is a absolute, our nation's highest way of saying we recognize you, we honor you. in that time during those half-hours, there might be a couple of wreath ceremonies, so the sentinel may not be on the mat the entire half-hour. in the winter time, and at nighttime, that half-hour is extended to one full hour. and again, there might be some wreath ceremonies in there, and someone asked the question earlier today about the guard change that you see going on, does it happen at midnight?
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yes, it does. regardless if there's anyone standing on those steps, the exact same guard change happens. so good question. >> i think there was another question right here. >> if you told us that the flags are presented to the president, what becomes of the flags after the president accepts the flag for the unknown, and the other question that's always in something that i want to know the answer to, what became of the medal of honor for our vietnam unknown? >> good questions, both of them. so the actual flags that were placed upon the caskets and folded by the joint forces colors team, and presented to the next of kin, are on display in the memorial display room, which is directly to the west of the tomb of the unknown soldier. if you did know it was there, it's behind the giant doors. it's in the memorial room.
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go in there and look. because you will be amazed. you'll see the war bonnet. you'll see each of those flags that were put on the casket. you're also going to find each of the medals of honor. so specifically regarding the vietnam unknown soldier, the medal of honor was awarded in the name of congress to the vietnam unknown soldier. when that soldier was identified, the medal stayed there in arlington. it wasn't conferred upon the captain i hope that answers your . question. yes, ma'am? duties?were your other >> that is our only duty when you're assigned. it doesn't seem like we work much when you look at a calendar, because they serve for 24 hours. actually about 26, 28, when you add getting there early and leaving late. but the 24-hour period, they live down in the quarters.
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they perform their duties. and then that relief will get a day off. and then they'll come back and do another set of 24 hours. they'll get another day off, and then do their final 24 hours in that workweek. so on the calendar, they only work nine days. but those are nine solid days, 24, 26, 27 hours a day. so when we're not down there, we're off taking care of uniforms. if they're in training, learning knowledge, trying to impress upon the badge holders that they want to be there and they know what they're doing, and improve their skills, and even as a badge holder, the tomb guard badge holder, i would still come down and i would practice, and i would rehearse, and i would make sure what i'm doing is perfection as best as i can get it. i thought maybe you used that knowledge for lectures or did something else with that knowledge.
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>> the current tomb guards do a briefing every day, and i want to say it's at 10:00 and there may be one at 1400 just depending on the mission load. they'll do a briefing something about this, a lot corps condensed, just giving a brief history. when i was down there, we didn't stand outside to answer questions from the public. in the 1950's and 1960's, that did happen, which is why we have the badge. it's also about arlington, it's about the army, births our regiment, and everything that surrounds the unknown soldiers. so i hope that answers your question. >> i believe our next question is going to be coming from claudine, who is wanting to be sure that i get my workout in for the day. she's also a volunteer at the national memorial. could you tell me, do you know at this point what's going to happen in the years to come?
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because we can't seem to keep away from war. and there will be others. there is only three spots there now. is there enough room for the future? >> very good question. with the advance of dna technology, i doubt there will be another unknown soldier. for those of you who have served anytime recently, it seems like every year when we do medical screening -- i don't think you'll see another unknown soldier from any conflicts identified or placed in arlington cemetery. i have that answers your question. if not, she can run back up the stairs again. [laughter] >> i know there probably are
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some more questions and you would welcome those, but i believe now is also the time for me to say it is truly an honor to have someone on the stage someone who is able to share about the history of the tomb of the unknown soldier and we are so pleased to be partnering with you all as we head toward that centennial. you to take arage look at the website for the society of the honor guard of the two of the unknown soldier. we would encourage you to join our partners and find out more about the amazing story that is being told in music and it are. join us next week as we explore more of this story and join us any day you want to over the summer. we are open seven days a week and it is a joy to have you here
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at the museum. please join me in thanking our speaker. [applause] >> this sunday, veterans day on american history tv, president trump is in paris for ceremony marking the centennial of the
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armistice that ended world war i. million doughboys followed along french and british troops in 1917 and 1918. by war pot and, many americans had died. many has been wounded. you can watch the ceremony here on american history tv. each week, american artifacts take you to museums and historic places to learn about american history. here is a brief look at one of our recent trips. >> the hello girls were brought 1918 after hearly became frustrated by the fact french telephone operators provided to him didn't speak
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much english. it became a logistical nightmare to try to get orders to his various field offices around the front. he directed the u.s. army signal corps back in the united states to put out a call for female telephone operators who could speak french, but could also handle the pressures of being in the front during the battle. women applied for these positions. very few of them made the cut. descendents of french canadians, so they knew the french language. they came over, they were set up and right before the battle they were brought here. you can see by this photograph that they were sitting at the switchboard. because they are so close to the front, they had the doughboy helmet and the gas mask behind their chair.
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none of the telephone operators were in harm's way. there were no casualties. the work that the telephone operators did during the battle was extremely significant, especially in the very hectic days at the end of september and october, when trying to move supplies and orchestrate armies all around a huge front. travel with us to historic sites, these themes and archives each sunday at 6:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. eastern time. american history tv all weekend on c-span3. >> next on "reel america," we continue our look at silent world war i u.s. army films with historian mitchell yockelson and french battlefield guide guillaume moizan. officially titled "activities of the graves registration service," the film was shot in northeastern france after the
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war in 1919 and 1920.


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