The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
and The American Legion
On October 22, 1921, The mortal remains of four unidentifiable U.S. soldiers that had been killed in France in World War I and later exhumed on Memorial Day, 1921, were convoyed to Chalons-sur-Marne. They were escorted by three soldiers and an American Legion veteran.
Laid out in state in ceremonial catafalques before him, a highly-decorated soldier of the war, Sgt. Edward Younger, was given the most prestigious honor of selecting from the four the one soldier that was to be taken back in the U.S. as being THE “unknown soldier.” Younger himself had fought bravely at Chateau-Thierry, St. Mihiel, the Somme Offensive and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.
The chosen fallen comrade was escorted across the Atlantic to the U.S. and taken to Washington, D.C. On Veterans Day, he was laid to rest in what would be the new memorial, a three-level marble tomb. This lad was to represent all of those American service members who fought and died for this country, and whose remains were never identified.
In February 1969, in recognition of its upcoming 50th anniversary, The American Legion paid for and had installed a special $100,000 lighting system for what had become the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The memorial had by then been added to by two unknown warriors: one from World War II and one from Korea, both of which had been interred back on Memorial Day, 1958.
A month later, on March 15 1969, exactly 50 years after the American Legion’s birth, President Nixon pressed a button that activated the new lighting system.
An additional unknown from the Vietnam conflict was interred into the tomb by President Reagan on Memorial Day, 1984, but that individual was later exhumed in May 1998 after his body was identified through DNA testing as being USAF 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie, shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972.
In 1999, the Pentagon announced that no new remains would be interred in the tomb, since new technological advances like DNA testing would make fallen comrades remaining unknown very unlikely.
The Creed of the Sentenial Guarding the Tomb
My dedication to this sacred duty is total and wholehearted.
In the responsibility bestowed on me never will I falter, and with dignity and perseverance my standard will remain perfection.
Through the years of diligence and praise and the discomfort of the elements, I will walk my tour in humble reverence to the best of my
It is he who commands the respect I protect.
His bravery that made us so proud.
Surrounded by well meaning crowds by day alone in the thoughtful peace of night, this soldier will in honored glory rest under my eternal vigilance.
Some of the most famous stars in Hollywood were
once veterans. Here are just a FEW of them.
Alan Alda was an artillery captain in the Army in the Korean War.
Alan Hale (Gilligan's Island ) was in the US Coast Guard during the war.
Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan Kenobi) operated a British Royal Navy landing craft on D-Day.
Brian Keith served as a U.S. Marine rear gunner in several actions against the Japanese on Rabaul in the Pacific.
Charles Bronson was a WW II Army Air Corps tail gunner on B-29s in the 20th Air Force in the Pacific.
Charles Durning was an Army ranger at Normandy, earning a Silver Star and awarded the Purple Heart.
Charlton Heston ("Moses" was an Army Air Corps sergeant in Kodiak, Alaska.
Clark Gable, although he was beyond the draft age when the U.S. entered WW II, enlisted as a private in the Army Air Corps F in August, 1942. He was given a 2nd lieutenant commission two months later and after aerial gunnery school, he was assigned to the 351st Bomb Group. He flew operational missions over Europe in a B-17s. Supposedly, Gable was one of Adolf Hitler’s favorite actors, and Hitler once offered a big reward to anyone who could capture and bring the star to him unhurt. Major Gable was relieved from active duty on Jun. 12, 1944, six days after D-Day. Sadly, just after Gable returned to the US, his bomber, Delta Rebel No.II, was lost with all hands on its next mission.
Don Knotts (Barney Fife) was in the Army in the South Pacific during the war as a military entertainer in a show called "Stars and Gripes."
Donald Pleasance was an RAF pilot who, just like his character Blythe in "The Great Escape," really was shot down over Occupied Europe. He was captured and tortured by the Germans.
Ed McMahon (The Tonite Show) was a decorated Marine fighter pilot who flew 85 missions in Korea and retired a Brigadier General from the California National Guard.
Eddie Albert ("Green Acres"") was awarded a Bronze Star for his heroic action as a naval officer assisting Marines at Tarawa, Nov. 1943.
Eli Wallach ("The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly") was a captain in the Army Medical Corps.
Flip Wilson at 16 joined the Air Force when Korea broke out in 1950 and served in the Pacific for five years.
Frank Sutton (Sgt Carter on "Gomer Pyle") really had been in the Army in World War II. The actor whose best role was a Marine gunnery sergeant amusingly could not pass the Marine Corps physical. He did though, take part in 14 assault landings in the Pacific, including Leyte, Luzon, Bataan and Corregidor.
George C. Scott ("Patton") was a decorated post-World War II Marine. He served as an honor guard for military funerals at Arlington National Cemetery.
Hugh Hefner ("Playboy") was just a corporal in the Infantry in World War II, ending the war as a company clerk. On a History Channel program about sex during the war, he stated the shocking fact that he had been a virgin when he joined the Army and still a virgin when he came out.
James Doohan ("Commander Montgomery Scott," USS Enterprise) landed in Normandy with the Canadian Army and was wounded. He was shot by a machine gun and lost a finger.
Jason Robards was a Navy radioman on the USS Northampton 100 miles off Pearl Harbor when the attack began. As the radioman on watch, Robards himself actually received the famous “AIR RAID PEARL HARBOR-THIS IS NO DRILL” message sent out. Later during the war, he had two cruisers shot out from under him.
Jerry Mathers ("Leave it to Beaver") was in the Air National Guard during Vietnam.
Jimi Hendrix was a corporal in the 101st Airborne Division in 1962 and later qualified as a paratrooper.
Lee Van Cleef, star of many spaghetti westerns, served as a sonarman on minesweepers and subchasers in the Navy in the European Theatre. He took part in many operations, including the invasion of Southern France.
Red Skelton was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1944 and discharged in 1945.
Don Rickles served in WW II as a seaman 1st class on the PT boat tender USS Cyrene.
Baseball legend Jackie Robinson served as an Army 2nd lieutenant from 1942-44. During his training in Texas, he was ordered by a white bus driver to move to the back of the segregated bus. Angered, he defiantly refused, and so he was arrested by MPs and court-martialed, but later acquitted. Robinson's action not only presaged his breaking of the color line in baseball, but (many feel) also may have partially influenced President Harry S. Truman’s decision to fully integrate the U.S. Armed forces in 1948.
Gene Autry, America’s first singing cowboy, was the No. 1 Western star when World War II broke out. Although he mostly entertained troops in Arizona, that to him was not enough. So in 1942, against his studio’s advice and potentially losing an income of $600,000/yr a year, Autry enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He paid for personal lessons to fly large aircraft, and eventually became a C-47 pilot in the Air Transport Command, flying missions over the Himalayas between Burma and China (`the Hump’). Supposedly, Gene was the only U.S. serviceman allowed to wear cowboy boots on duty.
Jimmie Stewart ("George Bailey") entered the Army Air Corps as a private and worked his way up to the rank of colonel. During World War II, serving as a B-24 pilot, he flew 20+ missions over Germany, taking part in dozens of air strikes during his tour of duty, and earning the Distinguished Flying Cross twice, the Air Medal w/several oak leaf clusters, France's Croix de Guerre, and six Battle Stars.
Ernest Borgnine (“McHale’s Navy”) actually joined the U.S. Navy in 1935, right after high school to serve in the Atlantic on destroyers and submarine chasers. He was discharged in October 1941, but re-enlisted just three months later, right after the U.S. entered World War II. He reached the rank of Gunner’s Mate 1st Class in the South Pacific, earning several medals and four battle stars. In 2004, because of his naval career (off screen and on screen) and his long-time, staunch support of the Navy and its families worldwide, Borgnine received the honorary rank of Chief Petty Officer from the highest ranking enlisted sailor, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Terry D. Scott.
USS Oklahoma (BB37), a World War I veteran, was moored at Pearl Harbor that day on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked. She was hit by five torpedoes before she capsized and flipped over as crewmen jumped from her decks into the flaming waters around her. Total loss was 429 dead, most of whose remains were never identified.
All attempts to salvage her like most of the other battleships there were stymied by her damage. But the Navy persisted, and she was finally refloated in November 1943. Unfortunately, the vessel was considered too ravaged to ever be put back into service. So the Oklahoma was finally decommissioned on September 1, 1944. Her armamant was taken off her and put to other uses for the war effort.
In May 1947, two ocean tugs, the Hercules and the Monarch, began to tow her back to a scrapyard in San Francisco. With all of her armament and nearly all of her superstructure removed, she looked like a big barge. With the large decommissioned battleship behind them, they made the slow speed of only 5 knots. About 2,400 miles away in the city, plans were being made for a welcome home and farewell ceremony set, fittingly, for Memorial Day. Oklahoma Gov. Roy J. Turner and almost 500 people were going to pay their last respects to her before they took the torch to her.
Unfortunately one evening after they had departed, six days out and just over 500 miles out of Hawaii, they unexpectedly ran into a storm.
That night, each 14-man tug crew struggled to get the vessels out of the storm. Using several searchlights to see into the rain-swept darkness, they kept an eye on the Oklahoma behind them. They soon began to observe with alarm that the battleship, which had begun listing to port a couple days before, was now listing heavily at about 30 degrees and was in danger of sinking. The tugs radioed the Coast Guard and were ordered to abandon their tow and return to Pearl Harbor.
So around midnight of May 16-17, the crews began to play out the drums to their towing cables to release them. Not long after though, the battleship suddenly went down at 1:40 a.m., and the 1,400-foot tow lines began to pull the tugs backwards towards the battleship's watery grave. As the tugs frantically tried to make headway, saltwater cascaded over their sterns, threatening to swamp them. The Hercules crewmen could not even get to their winch to release the cable, because by then it was underwater.
As the Oklahoma rapidly sank into the depths, the tugs were pulled backwards at nearly 15 knots. The towing line from the Monarch quickly played out, and that tug was released as the tow line went flying into the air with a shower of sparks. The Hercules' cable though did not release, but at the last possible moment, its stern winch exploded and the severed cable was ripped away, leaving the tug tossing and pitching above the grave of the sunken battleship.
The tugs somehow remained in the area until daybreak to make sure that no wreakage had floated to the surface.
The exact position of Oklahoma's final resting place is still not known.
The American Legion
Reynoldsburg Post 798
P.O. Box 58
Reynoldsburg, OH 43068
The next regularly scheduled monthly post meeting will be on Thursday, September 14th, 2017, at 1900 hrs. at the
FOE Eagles Club,
1623 Brice Road.