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Feature   Observances

Unknown Heroes, Public Thanks

Nov. 10, 2021 , DOD News

For the first time in nearly 100 years, members of the public walked on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Plaza and laid flowers to personally honor the unknowns.

A group of people place flowers in front of a monument.
Paying Tribute
Visitors participate in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Centennial Commemoration Public Flower Ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., Nov. 9, 2021.
Photo By: Elizabeth Fraser, Army
VIRIN: 211109-A-IW468-362
A child stands in line to give flowers.
Waiting to Give Thanks
Visitors participate in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Centennial Commemoration Flower Ceremony, Nov. 9, 2021.
Photo By: Elizabeth Fraser, Army
VIRIN: 211109-A-IW468-212

The event is one of many at Arlington National Cemetery marking the centennial of the tomb, the grave of three Unknown Soldiers and a symbolic tribute to the memory of all U.S. service members through history. 

Families with small children and other civilians, veterans and service members all stood in line for the opportunity to approach the sacred space, many offering prayers or salutes in addition to flowers. 

A person salutes and holds flowers at Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Flowers and Salute
A visitor salutes at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., Nov. 9, 2021, during the centennial flower ceremony.
Photo By: Army Spc. Laura Stephens
VIRIN: 211109-A-XX999-303Y
People walk in front of Tomb of the Unknown soldiers with flowers in hand.
Flower Procession
Visitors participate in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Centennial Commemoration Flower Ceremony, Nov. 9, 2021.
Photo By: Elizabeth Fraser, Army
VIRIN: 211109-A-IW468-240
A child and adult place flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown soldier as people wait in line by them.
Laying Flowers
Visitors participate in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Centennial Commemoration Flower Ceremony, Nov. 9, 2021.
Photo By: Elizabeth Fraser, Army
VIRIN: 211109-A-IW468-224

The two-day ceremony opened Nov. 9 with remarks, performances and offerings from representatives of the Crow Nation — an echo of 100 years earlier, when Crow Chief Plenty Coups participated in the Nov. 11, 1921, interment service for the first Unknown Soldier. 

A Native American holds a smudge pot.
Opening Ceremony
Vincent Goesahead Jr. of the Crow Nation performs with a smudge pot during the opening ceremony for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Centennial Commemoration Public Flower Ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., Nov. 9, 2021.
Photo By: Elizabeth Fraser, Army
VIRIN: 211109-A-IW468-124
Native American in traditional clothing and other dignitaries at Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Plenty Coups
Crow chief Plenty Coups with other dignitaries attends the interment of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., Nov. 11, 1921.
Photo By: Library of Congress
VIRIN: 211111-O-D0439-101Y

The flower ceremony was to end with the same benediction given by the first Army chief of chaplains in 1921. 

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Volunteers provided flowers to people who did not bring their own. Cemetery officials said the flowers would be disposed of in an environmentally friendly way, with some being saved for historical purposes. 

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Walking next to the tomb is a privilege otherwise given only to the sentinels of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as "The Old Guard," who have maintained an around-the-clock vigil at the site for decades. The Tomb Guards themselves traditionally lay flowers at the tomb as an offering of respect when they perform their last walk. 

A soldier kneels and places a rose at a crypt at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Sentinel's Offering
Army Sgt. Antonio Garcia lays a single red rose at each of the crypts while conducting his last walk on the plaza at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., April 17, 2019.
Photo By: Army Spc. Daniel Yeadon
VIRIN: 190416-A-MP101-0083Y
A soldier walks in the rain holding a rifle.
Ceremony Walk
A soldier assigned to the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as “The Old Guard,” walks the mat at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier during a Veterans Day Observance at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., Nov. 11, 2020.
Photo By: Elizabeth Fraser, Army
VIRIN: 201111-A-IW468-684C

The sentinels continued their vigil during the flower ceremony, though they changed their traditional position, walking on the east side of the tomb to allow the public access. 

Overhead view of people laying flowers at Tomb of the Unknown Soldier while sentinel walks mat.
Continuing Vigil
Visitors participate in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Centennial Commemoration Flower Ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, Nov. 9, 2021.
Photo By: Elizabeth Fraser, Army
VIRIN: 211109-A-IW468-851