With this year’s centennial of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, commemorative events have been rolling out across the United States, with Never Forget Garden dedications, historical conferences and flag-flying tributes. As part of the commemoration, a Society of the Honor Guard delegation traveled to France to retrace the selection process for the remains of the first Unknown Soldier.
In 1921, the caskets of four soldiers killed in the First World War were exhumed from four American cemeteries in France: St. Mihiel, Aisne-Marne, Somme and Meuse-Argonne. A ceremony was held at Chalons-sur-Marne (today’s Chalons-en-Champagne) during which U.S. Army Sgt. Edward Younger placed a white rose on one of the caskets, thus selecting the honoree. The rose was provided by the Ducher Roseraie, a family grower near Lyon.
A century later, owner Fabien Ducher created a beautiful white “Never Forget” variety to mark the centennial. The rose is being planted in dedicated Never Forget gardens across the United States, and even in Paris. The American Cathedral of the Holy Trinity dedicated a Never Forget rose in its Deans’ Garden at a ceremony with the Honor Guard delegation on October 19th.
The 41-member delegation then visited the four American cemeteries involved in the 1921 selection, raising in each a flag they had brought from Arlington Cemetery. They also went to the Normandy American Cemetery and the port of Le Havre, from where the first Unknown Soldier sailed for home in 1921. Le Havre Mayor and former prime minister Edouard Philippe hosted the ceremony and installation of a plaque there.
Back in Paris, they lit the flame at the French Unknown Soldier tomb under the Arc de Triomphe and attended a gala dinner at the Ecole Militaire, given by the American Legion’s Paris Post 1. The delegation was led by Gavin McIlvenna, president of the Society of the Honor Guard and a former U.S. Army paratrooper. He and other delegation members said they were delighted and amazed at the warmth of the reception they found. French veterans and residents of each of the towns where ceremonies were held turned out to salute the Unknown Soldier.
“We were incredibly honored to be with them and see the reaction that we read about in 1921, and here it is, in person,” McIvenna said. “It was overwhelming. It exceeded all expectations.” The delegation included members of the Gold Star Mothers Association, led by national president Jo Ann Maitland, and the president general of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Denise VanBuren, as well as current and former Tomb Guards.
Commemoration of the centennial of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier continue into November at Arlington National Cemetery and other sites across the nation. Centennial Week begins November 8, when the public will be invited to lay individual flowers on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. For more information, see www.tombguard.org or Twitter @SHGTUS.
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