ARLINGTON, Va. - This year marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the first World War. A new book details the heroic effort to bring an unidentified American soldier back to the U.S.For burial at Arlington National Cemetery.
"The tomb is hallowed ground. It's our most sacred and hallowed ground in America," said writer and historian Patrick O'Donnell.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery is to this day, of the most treasured attractions here in our nation's capital.
"And it's a majestic place."
Where members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as The Old Guard stand watch 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The changing of the guards is a solemn ritual played out before tens of thousands of visitors every year.
"This represents who we are as Americans. It represents all the sacrifices that were made by those who had fallen in battle for America," said O'Donnell.
He's the author of a new book called The Unknowns, about the U.S. government's efforts at the end of World War I to honor all Americans killed in battle with a tomb for one of the unidentified war dead.
"Initially the war department was very resistant to the idea of an 'unknown soldier.' They felt that they could identify all the unknown soldiers. There were about 2,500 in World War I. But that didn't happen. And then there was a movement after France and England both selected an unknown soldier to have an American unknown soldier," he said.
Documented with historical photographs, the effort began in 1921. The unknown soldier was chosen after unidentified caskets were un-earthed from four American cemeteries in France.
"And they were about to give a general officer the right to select the unknown for America, the American unknown soldier. But the French said no. 'You should use an enlisted man to select the unknown." said O'Donnell.
That man was Edward Younger, who had fought in some of the toughest battles of WWI, was wounded twice. Was given a bouquet of flowers to help make the selection.
"He walked into the chapel and lay the bouquet on one of the caskets and he felt that the man who was in that casket had died next to him in battle. And it was one of his friends," said O'Donnell.
Bob Barnard: "He didn't know for sure but he thought so?"
O'Donnell: "He was powerfully drawn to that individual."
Barnard: "And to this day we don't know who that person is?"
O'Donnell: "We don't know who that person is."
The flag-draped casket was brought to the U.S. on board the USS Olympia. The other three caskets were buried again in France.
"The heart of this book though, it about the body bearers," said O'Donnell.
General John Pershing was commander of U.S. forces on the western front and hand-selected the men that would bring back the Unknown Soldier's remains.
"They're the most decorated enlisted men of the war to bring back the remains and their stories tell the story of America's involvement in WWI. It's a forgotten generation. It's a generation that changed the world. They remade the world," he said.
Inscribed on the back of the tomb reads: "Here rests in honored glory, an American soldier known but to God."