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Arlington National Cemetery opens plaza at Tomb of Unknown Soldier for first time in decades

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Posted at 5:40 AM, Nov 09, 2021

On Tuesday, Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia opened the plaza at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to the public for the first time in 78 years.

The public is invited to lay flowers at the area near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. ET Tuesday and Wednesday as the cemetery prepares to mark the 100th anniversary of the memorial's dedication on Thursday.

According to the Military Times, the last time the plaza at the tomb was opened to the public was in 1943 — near the beginning of the U.S.'s involvement in World War II.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier — a monument representing all U.S. military members who have been killed or remain missing in action — is the most revered area of the nation's largest military cemetery.

The area is guarded 24/7 by Army soldiers with the 3rd Infantry Regiment, who reverently "walk the mat" in a ceremonial routine full of symbolism. While the public can view the changing of the guard and their patrol when the cemetery is open, the public is typically forbidden from walking onto the plaza.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was dedicated in 1921 when the remains of an unidentified World War I soldier, who had been killed in France, were returned to the U.S. and interred at the cemetery.

Prior to internment, the unidentified soldier's casket lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda. The body was then taken to Arlington Cemetery in a grand military procession.

In the years since, unidentified soldiers from World War II and the Korean War have since been interred in the area. The remains of a U.S. soldier who fought in the Vietnam War were briefly interred in the tomb before scientists identified them as those of Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie. Blassie's remains were removed from the tomb in 1998 upon his family's request.

Each year on Memorial Day, Veteran's Day and the Fourth of July, presidents travel to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to lay a wreath and remember their solemn duties as commander-in-chief.