By CATHY MIGLORIE Special to the Herald – Published: October 30, 2009 Many stories of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier appear in the pages of the Vermont Marble Co.’s old industry newsletter, The Memory Stone. The quarrying of the block of pure white marble from the Vermont Marble Co.-owned Yule, Colo., quarry, the fabrication of the block into the famed sarcophagus and the carving of the sarcophagus details done in Proctor and on site at Arlington National Cemetery, was a major project for the Vermont Marble Co. in the early 1930s. It was appropriate that this story be shared with the industry tradesmen as the story itself unfolded.
On March 4, 1921, the U.S. Congress approved a resolution providing for the burial of an unknown and unidentified American soldier of World War I in Arlington National Cemetery Memorial Amphitheater. On Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1921, at 8:30 a.m., the casket of this soldier was carried down the steps of the Capitol Building, placed on a horse-drawn caisson, and made the journey to the Memorial Amphitheater under a military escort. general officers of the Army and admirals of the Navy acted as pallbearers, and noncommissioned officers of the Navy and Marine Corps were body bearers. President Warren G. Harding officiated at this, the first internment ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where he conferred upon the Unknown Soldier the Congressional Medal of Honor.
The simple white marble tomb, placed over the resting place of the Unknown Soldier immediately after the interment, was planned to serve as a base for an appropriate monument. Soon after the Armistice Day ceremonies on Nov. 11, 1921, planning began for the completion of the tomb, a $50,000 expenditure which was authorized by Congress on July 3, 1926. The government chose as material for the tomb the pure white marble from Yule, Colo. A search commenced for a designer for the tomb, and the contract was awarded to Thomas Hudson Jones, sculptor, and Lorimer Rich, architect, of New York City.
As more and more people came pay their respects at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the need grew for a formal guard program. The tomb was unguarded until 1925, when a civilian was hired to guard the tomb during cemetery hours. On March 24, 1926, a military guard from the Washington Provisional Brigade began guarding the tomb during the daylight hours. In 1937, the tomb was placed under guard 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, but it wasn’t until 1948 that the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment BCT, “The Old Guard,” began guarding the tomb in concurrence with its mission: “conducts ceremonies in order to maintain the traditions of the U.S. Army, showcase the Army to our nation’s citizens and the world, and to defend the dignity and honor of our fallen comrades.”
The early guard ceremony was described as thus in an advertisement in the Oct. 1928 issue of The Memory Stone:
“America’s Eternal Flame”
“Pacing … pacing, day by day, a soldier keeps the nation’s ceaseless vigil. He represents the eternal flame of American Manhood, ever-youthful, ever-renewed, here at the shrine dedicated to the memory of all our battle-heroes.
“Moment by moment the footbeats of the guard, like the pulse of the living nation, will measure off centuries beside the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and this great Memorial Amphitheatre. Both were built of Vermont Marble.
“After long research by Government experts, Vermont Marble was selected because of its inspiring beauty and tested ability to endure for unmeasured time … America’s noblest Memory Stone!”
The monument as we know it today was not complete until the sarcophagus was actually placed in 1931, but accounts of the tomb and its significance as a shrine to Americans and others appeared many times on the pages of The Memory Stone.
In December 1926, an article titled “The Monument Everyone Sees” stated:
“On the front cover is a picture of Queen Marie of Roumania at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Like the other well-known people who have crossed the seas to study us, Her Majesty declined to leave Washington until she stood for a moment by the great international shrine in Arlington Cemetery.
“The Queen of Roumania is a well-advertised personage. Like the Prince of Wales, she is greeted wherever she goes by throngs of well-wishers. That is what comes of having a humanly regal personality. That is why the newspapers keep her name in the headlines and transmit to the far corners of the land the story of her conquest of America. She may call it a pleasure trip. No doubt it was planned partly for that, but who can say it has no deeper significance.
“Let it be understood that in the likeness on the cover and in the little pictures on this page the people are but secondary to the tomb. To that plain white marble have come pilgrims not alone from widely separated national organizations, but from practically all foreign lands.”
To further illustrate the international significance of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the June 1927 issue features a full page of photos of esteemed persons and groups visiting the tomb. Moving photos captioned with the following titles of those visitors include Gen. Machado of Cuba; World War Veterans of the Second Division, U.S.A.; Señor Don Beltran Mathieu, ambassador from Chile; Sir James A. M. Elder, Australian commissioner; as well as a photo entitled “The Children’s Tribute,” and one simply captioned, “Guard Duty.”
Even later, in October 1929, the cover of The Memory Stone promotes the use of Vermont Marble in Arlington with a photo of King George of England and these words inside: “Our cover this month shows King George of England placing a wreath on the Unknown Soldier’s Tomb in the National Cemetery, Arlington, Va. It never occurred to us until now that whoever pays homage to America’s hero must stand on Vermont marble and rest his eyes on marble from Colorado.”
The story of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is the subject of a new exhibit to be unveiled in May at the Vermont Marble Museum in Proctor. In coming weeks, Marble Minutes will feature excerpts from the Vermont Marble Co. publication “The Memory Stone.” Marble Minutes is designed to share the history of the marble industry in Vermont. It is part of the Dimensions of Marble program, which, through six distinct projects, will bring together the history of the marble quarries and workers, the communities in which they lived, the artistry of sculptors past and present, and the people, who over generations, created a multitude of new projects and brought prosperity to the region. For more information on Dimensions of Marble, visit www.dimensionsofmarble.org or e-mail Megan Smith, executive director at email@example.com.