…an American Soldier known but to God

On Oct. 23, 1921, in the French town of Chalons-sur-Marne, an American officer selects the body of the first “Unknown Soldier” to be honored among the approximately 77,000 United States servicemen killed on the Western Front during World War I.

According to the official records of the Army Graves Registration Service deposited in the U.S. National Archives in Washington, four bodies were transported to Chalons from the cemeteries of Aisne-Marne, Somme, Meuse-Argonne and Saint-Mihiel. All were great battlegrounds, and the latter two regions were the sites of two offensive operations in which American troops took a leading role in the decisive summer and fall of 1918. As the service records stated, the identity of the bodies was completely unknown: “The original records showing the internment of these bodies were searched and the four bodies selected represented the remains of Soldiers of which there was absolutely no indication as to name, rank, organization or date of death.”

The four bodies arrived at the Hotel de Ville in Chalons-sur-Marne on Oct. 23, 1921. At 10 o’clock the next morning, French and American officials entered a hall where the four caskets were displayed, each draped with an American flag. Sergeant Edward Younger, the man given the task of making the selection, carried a spray of white roses with which to mark the chosen casket. According to the official account, Younger “entered the chamber in which the bodies of the four Unknown Soldiers lay, circled the caskets three times, then silently placed the flowers on the third casket from the left. He faced the body, stood at attention and saluted.”

Bearing the inscription “An Unknown American who gave his life in the World War,” the chosen casket traveled to Paris and then to Le Havre, France, where it would board the cruiser Olympia for the voyage across the Atlantic. Once back in the United States, the Unknown Soldier was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D.C.

Here are some riveting photos captured at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

U.S. Army photo/Kerry Solan

The Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA, is also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and has never been officially named. (U.S. Army photo by Kerry Solan)

Tomb Sentinels from the Old Guard begins the Changing of the Guard ceremony in front of the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. (U.S. Army photo by Kerry Solan)

Tomb Sentinels from the Old Guard begins the Changing of the Guard ceremony in front of the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. (U.S. Army photo by Kerry Solan)

The Tomb Guard marches 21 steps down the black mat behind the Tomb, turns, faces east for 21 seconds, turns and faces north for 21 seconds, then takes 21 steps down the mat and repeats the process. After the turn, the sentinel executes a sharp "shoulder-arms" movement to place the weapon on the shoulder closest to the visitors to signify that the sentinel stands between the Tomb and any possible threat. Twenty-one was chosen because it symbolizes the highest military honor that can be bestowed -- the 21-gun salute. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Ben K. Navratil)

The Tomb Guard marches 21 steps down the black mat behind the Tomb, turns, faces east for 21 seconds, turns and faces north for 21 seconds, then takes 21 steps down the mat and repeats the process. After the turn, the sentinel executes a sharp “shoulder-arms” movement to place the weapon on the shoulder closest to the visitors to signify that the sentinel stands between the Tomb and any possible threat. Twenty-one was chosen because it symbolizes the highest military honor that can be bestowed — the 21-gun salute. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Ben K. Navratil)

A sign at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., points the way to the Tomb of the Unknowns.  (U.S. Army photo by Kerry Solan)

A sign at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., points the way to the Tomb of the Unknowns. (U.S. Army photo by Kerry Solan)

A bird's-eye view of the Commander-in-Chief's guard helping the U.S. Park Police lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jose Torres, Jr.)

A bird’s-eye view of the Commander-in-Chief’s guard helping the U.S. Park Police lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jose Torres, Jr.)

A Tomb Sentinel from the Old Guard passes in front of the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery, Va.   (U.S. Army photo by Kerry Solan)

A Tomb Sentinel from the Old Guard passes in front of the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery, Va. (U.S. Army photo by Kerry Solan)

Spc. Edward Marshall of the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) walked his last walk July 5, 2012 as a Sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. Marshall is one of only 602 Soldiers to have earned the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Guard Identification Badge. (U.S. Army photo)

Spc. Edward Marshall of the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) walked his last walk July 5, 2012 as a Sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. Marshall is one of only 602 Soldiers to have earned the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Guard Identification Badge. (U.S. Army photo)

Spc. Seth Wymer, Sentinel, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), places a flag at the foot of one of four crypts of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery, Va., May 23, 2013. The ceremony, known as Flags In, is performed to commemorate and honor U.S. military personnel ahead of Memorial Day weekend and has been conducted annually since 1948. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Megan Garcia)

Spc. Seth Wymer, Sentinel, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), places a flag at the foot of one of four crypts of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery, Va., May 23, 2013. The ceremony, known as Flags In, is performed to commemorate and honor U.S. military personnel ahead of Memorial Day weekend and has been conducted annually since 1948. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Megan Garcia)

A Sentinel guards the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the snow, Dec. 29, 2012 in Arlington National Cemetery, Va. The Tomb is guarded 24-hours a day 7-days a week. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Luisito Brooks)

A Sentinel guards the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the snow, Dec. 29, 2012 in Arlington National Cemetery, Va. The Tomb is guarded 24-hours a day 7-days a week. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Luisito Brooks)

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…an American Soldier known but to God