Under authority of Public Resolution 67, of the 66th Congress, approved March 4, 1921, an unknown American soldier was exhumed from each of the four American cemeteries in France. They were placed in identical caskets and assembled at Chalons Sur Marne.
The Unknown Soldier was selected on October 24, 1921. Sergeant Edward F. Younger, US Army, carrying a spray of white roses, entered the room where the four unmarked flag-draped caskets were resting. He slowly circled, silently placing the roses of one of the caskets. Thus the Unknown Soldier was officially designated. The three remaining unknowns were then returned to the Meuse Argonne Cemetery.
The Unknown Soldier was placed aboard the US Cruiser Olympia, which arrived at the Nation's Capitol on November 9, 1921. The honored remains were taken to the Rotunda of the United States Capitol, to rest in state until Armistice Day, on November 11. The Unknown Soldier was moved to the Memorial Amphitheater, in Arlington National Cemetery. After service in the Amphitheater, the remains were borne to the sarcophagus for brief committal rites. The impressive ceremony closed with three salvos of artillery, the sounding of Taps, and the National Salute.
Under authority of Public Law 429, 79th Congress approved June 24, 1946, 13 unknown Americans who lost their lives while serving overseas in the Armed Forces of the United States during World War II were exhumed from American cemeteries in Europe and Africa and shipped in identical caskets to Epinal, France. Major General Edward J. O'Neill, US Army, on May 12, 1958, solemnly chose from among these caskets one to be designated as the Trans-Atlantic candidate-unknown. The remaining unknown Americans were reinterred.
The remains of two unknown Americans were disinterred on April 15, 1958, from the National Cemetery of the Pacific, Hawaii, and four unknowns were disinterred from the Fort McKinley American Cemetery and Memorial, in the Philippines. The six unknowns were then taken to Hickam Air Force Base, where on May 16, 1958, Colonel Glenn T. Eagleston, US Air Force, placed a white carnation lei, selecting the candidate-unknown to represent the Trans-Pacific phase of World War II. The five other caskets were reinterred.
The candidate-unknown was then transported to the Cruiser Canberra where the final selection of the World War II unknown took place. On the after-missile deck of the Canberra, Hospitalman First Class William R. Charette, the Navy's only active enlisted holder of the Medal of Honor, had the distinction of making the selection of the World War II unknown. After a moment's hesitation he placed a wreath at the foot of the casket on his right. This was the unknown of World War II. The unknown not selected received a sailor's burial at sea.
Under authority of Public Law 972, 84th Congress, approved August 3, 1958, four unknown Americans who lost their lives while serving overseas in the Armed Forces of the United States during the Korean Conflict were exhumed from the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. On May 15, 1958, Master Sergeant Ned Lyle, US Army, holding a carnation wreath stood momentarily silent before the four identical flag-draped caskets; he placed the wreath on the end casket to signify the selection of the Korean War unknown. The remaining unknown Americans were reinterred at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
The unknown of Korea was transported to the Cruiser Canberra to join the unknown of World War II.
At sea off Norfolk, Virginia, the unknown of World War II and Korea were transferred to the destroyer Blandy, which brought them to the Nation's Capitol.
Upon their arrival, on May 28, 1958, the Unknowns were taken to the Rotunda of the Nation's Capitol, to rest in state until Memorial Day, May 30, 1958. The Unknowns were then moved to the Memorial Amphitheater in Arlington National Cemetery and there, before the distinguished guests, President Dwight Eisenhower awarded the Medal of Honor to each. After the service, they were borne to this plaza, and following religious rites, they received a 21-gun salute. The service concluded with the firing of three volleys and the sounding of Taps.
In 1973, Congress passed Public Law 93-43, directing the Secretary of Defense to inter an unknown American serviceman from the Vietnam Conflict at the Tomb of the Unknowns. The sophisticated identification techniques were remarkably efficient, and it was not until 1984 that remains of an American serviceman were classified as unidentifiable.
During ceremonies at Pearl Harbor, on May 17, 1984, Sergeant Major Allan Kellogg, Jr., US Marine Corps, a Medal of Honor recipient during the Vietnam Conflict, placed a wreath before the casket, formally designating the unknown from the Vietnam Conflict. The unknown was placed aboard the USS Brewton for transport to mainland United States.
The unknown arrived at the US Capitol on May 25, 1984, where he lay in state for three days in the Rotunda. On Memorial Day, May 28, 1984, and elaborate funeral procession transferred the body to the Memorial Amphitheater. During the service, President Ronald Reagan presented the Medal of Honor to the unknown. The Vietnam unknown was then borne to the plaza, and following religious rites, a 21-gun salute was rendered. The solemn service concluded with three volleys of rifle fire, followed by the sounding of Taps.
On May 14, 1998, the unknown American of the Vietnam era was exhumed from the tomb for possible identification. After a somber ceremony presided over by the Honorable William S. Cohen, Secretary of Defense, the unknown was transported to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Using the most sophisticated and exacting science available, the unknown was identified as First Lieutenant Michael J. Blassie, US Air Force. In accordance with his family's wishes, he was interred in Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, Missouri. The crypt presently is empty, but it serves as a tribute to all those who made the supreme sacrifice during the Vietnam Conflict.