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Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Opens to Public for First Time in 100 Years

For the first time in nearly 100 years, the public will be able to walk on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Plaza and lay flowers in front of the Tomb.

For the first time in nearly 100 years, the public will be able to walk on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Plaza and lay flowers in front of the Tomb on Nov. 9 and 10, 2021.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Centennial Commemoration Public Flower Ceremony, a two-day event, will be free and open to the public and will allow visitors to personally pay their respects to the Unknown Soldiers. This is a rare opportunity for the public to walk next to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a privilege otherwise given only to the sentinels of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, “The Old Guard.”

“As the stewards of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, it’s our honor to lead the centennial commemoration of this site,” said Karen Durham-Aguilera, executive director of Army National Military Cemeteries and Arlington National Cemetery. “The Tomb has served as the heart of Arlington National Cemetery. It is a people’s memorial that inspires reflection on service, valor, sacrifice and mourning. As a sacred memorial site and the grave of three unknown American service members, the Tomb connects visitors with the legacy of the U.S. armed forces throughout the nation’s history.”

The flower ceremony will be held Tuesday, Nov. 9, and Wednesday, Nov. 10.   The hours to participate are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visitors are encouraged to bring their own flowers, but complimentary roses, gerbera daisies and sunflowers will be distributed. Trams will be available free of charge for the public to participate in the ceremony at the Memorial Amphitheater. Follow all signage and staff directions to access the Memorial Amphitheater and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The flower ceremony will start on Nov. 9 at 8 a.m. with representatives from the Crow Nation placing flowers at the Tomb and reciting the prayer that may have been given 100 years ago by American Indian Chief Plenty Coups. All visitors must have a government-issued ID for access. Read the Frequently Asked Questions about the flower ceremony. 

On Veterans Day, Nov. 11, the public will be invited to observe a joint full honors procession (meant to replicate elements of the World War I Unknown Soldier’s 1921 funeral procession) and a joint service flyover (aerial review) with aircraft from all branches of the military. The public is invited to stand along a special procession route to participate.

Due to COVID protocols, the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs is hosting an invitation-only Presidential Armed Forces Full Honor Wreath-Laying Ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the National Veterans Day Observance at the Memorial Amphitheater. A virtual program will be available to view online.

“Throughout this year, the cemetery has held events leading up to the centennial ceremony,” said Charles “Ray” Alexander Jr., superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery. “We encourage the public to experience and participate in the commemorative events in many ways, both at the cemetery and virtually.”

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