Tomb of the Unknown Soldier refers to a grave in which the unidentifiable remains of a soldier are interred. Such tombs can be found in many nations and are usually high-profile national monuments. Throughout history, many soldiers have died in wars without their remains being identified. Following the First World War, a movement arose to commemorate these soldiers with a single tomb, containing the body of one such unidentified soldier.
The idea was first conceived by Walt Whitman during his first hand experience in the American Civil War, where he reflects in Specimen Days on "the Bravest Soldier crumbles in mother earth, unburied and unknown." In 1916 by Reverend David Railton, who, while serving in the British Army as a chaplain on the Western Front, had seen a grave marked by a rough cross, which bore the pencil-written legend 'An Unknown British Soldier'. He proposed that a similar grave should exist in Britain as a national monument. The idea received the support of the Dean of Westminster and later from King George V, responding to a wave of public support. At the same time, there was a similar undertaking in France, where the idea was debated and agreed upon in Parliament.
The United Kingdom and France unveiled their monuments on Armistice Day, 1920. In Britain, the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior was created at Westminster Abbey, while in France La tombe du soldat inconnu was placed in the Arc de Triomphe.
The idea of a symbolic Tomb of the Unknown Soldier spread rapidly to other countries. In 1921, the following year, such tombs were unveiled in the United States, Portugal and Italy. Since then, many other nations have followed the practice and installed their own tombs.
In the United States, further tombs have subsequently been created in order to represent different wars seen as key in its history. In Ukraine, a second tomb was unveiled to commemorate The Unknown Sailor. The United States Army has 9 unknown Medal of Honor recipients.
The tombs typically contain the remains of a dead soldier who is unidentified (or "known but to God" as the stone is sometimes inscribed) and thought to be impossible ever to identify, so that he might serve as a symbol for all of the unknown dead wherever they fell.
The anonymity of the entombed soldier is key to the symbolism of the monument: since his or her identity is unknown, it could theoretically be the tomb of anyone who fell in service of the nation in question, and therefore serves as a monument to all of their sacrifices. Much work goes into trying to find a certain soldier, and to verify that it is indeed one of the relevant nation's soldiers.
Two quotations by Thucydides, from Pericles' Funeral Oration, are inscribed on the retaining wall: Μία κλίνη κενὴ φέρεται ἐστρωμένη τῶν ἀφανῶν (mía klínē kenē phéretai estrōménē tōn aphanōn, "... and one bed is carried empty, made for the unknown ones"), and Ἀνδρῶν ἐπιφανῶν πᾶσα γῆ τάφος (andrōn epiphanōn pása gē táphos, "For eminent men, every place is (worthy) burial ground").
The inscriptions flank a central sculpture in low relief, depicting a dying hoplite.
The monument is guarded round the clock by the Evzones of the Presidential Guard.
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