Soldiers from the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) place U.S. flags at headstones as part of Flags-In at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, May 23, 2019. For more than 55 years, soldiers from the Old Guard have honored our nation's fallen heroes by placing U.S. flags at gravesites for service members buried at both Arlington National Cemetery and the U.S. Soldiers' and Airmen's Home National Cemetery just prior to the Memorial Day weekend. Within four hours, over 1,000 soldiers place 245,000 flags in front of every headstone and Columbarium and niche wall column.
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery stands atop a hill overlooking Washington, D.C. On March 4, 1921, Congress approved the burial of an unidentified American soldier from World War I in the plaza of the new Memorial Amphitheater. The white marble sarcophagus has a flat-faced form and is relieved at the corners and along the sides by neo-classic pilasters, or columns, set into the surface. Sculpted into the east panel which faces Washington, D.C., are three Greek figures representing Peace, Victory, and Valor. The six wreaths, three sculpted on each side, represent the six major campaigns of World War I. Inscribed on the back of the Tomb are the words: Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God The Tomb sarcophagus was placed above the grave of the Unknown Soldier of World War I. West of the World War I Unknown are the crypts of unknowns from World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Those three graves are marked with white marble slabs flush with the plaza.
On May 27, 1868, the first Memorial Day, originally known as Decoration Day, was celebrated to honor the country's fallen during the Civil War. By proclamation of General John A. Logan, "The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit."
Today, Memorial Day is celebrated at Arlington National Cemetery with a ceremony in which a small American flag is placed on each grave. Also, it is customary for the president or vice-president to give a speech honoring the contributions of the dead and lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier -- upon which is inscribed the familiar, "Here Rests in Honored Glory an American Soldier Known But to God."
Personal Note: My Uncle Rick Blattenberger, a decorated Army Range during the early Vietnam War era, was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Melanie and I attended the burial ceremony in the spring of 2012. While there we also watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The precision of the soldiers' movements for both events was utterly impressive. Shamefully, the changing of the guard process was halted at one point to get some knucklehead spectators to quite down and show the proper respect for our nations' fallen service members.
If you have a family member or friend who is interred at Arlington National Cemetery, you can use the ANC Explorer phone app to locate it.
Updated May 27, 2019