Arlington National Cemetery Rebuild – Another War – The Last Unknown

Arlington National Cemetery

Part 2

Chapter 3: Rebuild - Another War - The Last Unknown

Photos and Material by Dan Brodt

(All photos are copyrighted unless otherwise noted. Permission must be had to use any photo that is not documented)

(Page design and editing by Bob Baldwin)

It is a coincidence that on the eve of Veterans Day 2019 I continue with this narrative. November 11th, in many years, celebrates the rituals, ceremonies, commemorations and salutes that began at Arlington for those that now rest in peace.

The rituals that were conceived at the Tomb of the Unknown helped ease the grief of families whose sons were lost to war. Artillery salutes, the majestic olde hymns echoing among the hills of Arlington and the welling of sympathy from the visitors to Arlington gave some repose to those visitors on a cold and cloudy late November day in 1921. World War I left the ceremonial flag waving; but speeches and the flash of sabers to rekindle not memories of honor and duty but the brutal fighting and the war causalities gone forever.

The voices, both within and without America, echoed the fervor to stop the increase in arms among nations, to stop the acrid visualization of chemical warfare and not destroy civilization from itself. Asia was to become the next theater of concern about war. The seafaring powers were shaping the future course of events in that area of the world. China's trade became the eye of the dragon for present and future prosperity. The commercial powers of the world would briefly contain any military action for about ten years.

The pause between wars provided another opportunity for Arlington to rebuild. The cemetery was a work in progress as the twentieth century broke on the horizon. The old Lee mansion still stood as the area's most imposing landmark. But neglect and disrepair left the olde stately mansion empty. Some of  its rooms became offices and record rooms for the cemetery's administrators. Arlington's caretaker and superintendent, D.H. Rhodes,  still received visitors and kept burial records in the basement.


The basement was really called a third downstairs chamber. It was cluttered with battle flags and a potpourri of memorabilia from the Civil War campaign. The historical significance of the mansion was still a thorn in the memory of a war and the traitor who owned it to some people. To the South, the blatant disrepair of Arlington mansion was a sacrilege. Thanks to the wife of a New Hampshire Senator Henry Wilder Keyes, Frances Keyes a devoted Virginia native and admirer of General Robert E. Lee, took inspiration from the recent restoration of George Washington's Mt. Vernon estate to further a call for renovations to Lee's family home. Congressional visitors to Arlington House, and their guests, found the Senator apologizing incessantly for the tattered condition of the interior of the mansion.


New Hampshire Senator Henry and Mrs. W.Keyes 


 The bitterness of The Civil War and against the traitor, R.E Lee, had moderated some fifty years later after his death. It was not entirely gone though. Even the mention that Arlington House be returned to its former glory spurred Congressional controversy to turn Arlington House into a museum. A shrine to the traitor General Robert E. Lee was not welcomed but became a Congressional vision for a remembrance to Lee and a source of tax revenue. The revenue would fund any renovations to Arlington House. A more serious threat to the Lee memorial rose from Charles Moore, the Chairman of the National Committee on Fine Arts.

Moore and his commission had no real authority in determining the aesthetics, good or bad, of a shrine to General Lee. Although the mansion emphasized the Greek architectural heritage in the United States, according to Moore, it would clash with the Victorian style with which Mrs. Lee designed it. Moore lost his bid to extol the old Confederate ghost. President Calvin Coolidge signed legislation in March 1925 to renovate Arlington House.

Calvin Coolidge

Lest we not forget this reoccurring  person, still in the memory of the mansion, former Lee slave James Parks lived on.

Born and raised and still working there he became a living source of how the estate once looked. The restoration details he provided outlived Parks. His last wish was to be buried at Arlington House.

James Parks

He was assigned a prominent grave near the Fort Myer gate.

Fort Myer

One would think at this point in time that the military protocols for honoring the Tomb of the Unknown would be set and in place. Not so! It took the French's recognition of their own country's Unknown to make the United States not be "one upped" by our ally. The US War Department took steps to provide a sentry to protect the tomb.

Veterans groups throughout the U.S. shamed the War Department into posting armed soldiers to "prevent any desecration or disrespect" at the Tomb of the Unknown.

Also the design and sculpture of a new sarcophagus was initiated and built in 1929.

The Secretary of War Dwight F. Davis Approves the design for The Tomb of The Unknown Soldier

Placing a Marble block at The Tomb of The Unknown Soldier


The new tomb had "Victory, Valor and Peace"

Victory, Valor and Peace

facing east into the Capital and the inscription "Here Rests In Honored Glory An American Soldier Known But To God" faces west to the Amphitheater. The new Tomb of the Unknown was dedicated on November 11, 1932

Also a new bridge linking the Lincoln Memorial to the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery was built.

Bert Manfred Fernald authorized construction


The Arlington Memorial Bridge opened in 1932.

Arlington Memorial Bridge - 1928

Bascule Span

The Arts of War Statues at the eastern entrance

Arlington National Bridge - Aerial view east


Eight years passed before France fell before German forces in June 1940 and the British were routed at Dunkirk. President Franklin D. Roosevelt  saw the new war as global in scope and a logistical challenge.

President Roosevelt

Roosevelt expanded Fort Myer with additional troops to reinforce the Capital's defenses.  Also, the need for expanded military and civilian office space led to the design and funding of what would become the U.S. Pentagon complex.

The Pentagon's construction, amidst the need for steel for the war effort, would be made of concrete. On September 11, 1941, another date that lives on in U.S. coincidences, ground was broken for the construction of the Pentagon.

A view showing one side of the War Department (Pentagon Building) while undergoing construction.

The complex would be finished on February 15, 1943.

The huge manpower pool led to the peacetime draft of October 1940. December 7, 1941 did indeed become a day that "lives in infamy".

World War II would bring men from all races, creeds, social statuses, and nations to Arlington's grounds:



Three of the men that raised the American Flag on Iwo Jima


Arlington grew from four hundred acres to over six hundred acres. The new land came from the south post at Fort Myer. As in the Civil War, it would take Congress far longer to clean up the expansion of land, than it would to fight World War II.



The Korean conflict, launched with broad public support, lost popular backing as the war raged on. The was no sign that any success in the conclusive winning of the "nastiest little war", was visible. It was a war that the U.S was not accustomed to fighting. It seems a sort of premonition of another "police action", looming some years in the future, would arise too quickly.  Some called Korea the "forgotten war", fought on obscure terrain under restrictive conditions. Personally, I find the parallel to the war in Vietnam years ahead, too much of a coincidence in motive, political interference and personal greed, be it monetary or character puffing, to ignore a parallel political-personal motive forming. I prefer to enter a personal opinion, based on two years as a combat infantryman in Vietnam, to reserve that "forgotten war, forgotten soldier to that fiasco. We had not won the war but settled on an uneasy truce in 1953.

The uneasy truce along the Korean DMZ allowed the United States to resume the burial of the unknown servicemen from World War II. It was August 1955, and we the U.S. still had not acknowledged the finding of an unknown from that war. So in August 1956, Congress determined that the unknown from Korea and the unknown from World War II would be co-buried at Arlington on Memorial Day 1958. But again, as with anything involving  government coordination and agreement, the longer the delay in legislating some resolve for recognizing and burying the unknowns from World War II and Korea, would divert blame in the public's eyes. Finger pointing at Congress or the military as to whom was  to blame for the delay, became a national pastime in Washington. This state of mind that seems to have migrated into the political arena even up until today 2019.

So on a hot and humid in 1958 at Arlington, President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Vice President Richard M. Nixon took their respective places beside the World War II and Korean Wars unknowns caskets as both were lowered into their crypts.

The hills of Arlington shook as a twenty-one gun salute by "The Old Guard" delivered the three part volley. Taps was sounded by the lone bugler.

The past three wars now had stone monuments to mark America's involvement. Also the specter of nuclear holocaust might ensure that America's next wars would be smaller in scope and not as enduring. "Total war was unthinkable, the future uncertain."

Yellow roses are placed at the base of the empty Vietnam Unknown Crypt where the inscription now reads "Honoring and Keeping Faith with America's Missing Servicemen 1958-1975". The new inscription on the crypt is being dedicated during the National Prisoner Of War/Missing In Action Recognition Day at Arlington National Cemetery, Washington, D.C. on Sept. 17, 1999. The remains formally in the crypt were removed in May of 1998 and were later identified as Air Force 1st Lt. Michael J. Blassie through mitochondrial DNA testing. DoD photo by Helene C. Stikkel. (Released).

John F. Kennedy had just taken the Presidential office in 1961 as a lone C-54 transport touched down at Bolling Air Force Base near Washington. Inside it the radioactive remains of Specialist Four Richard L. McKinley, killed by a nuclear accident, was guarded then its bulky vault removed to Arlington.

A new burial procedure now isolated the grounds at Arlington. A double-sealed. lead lined casket with a concrete vault would be interred in Section 31 just uphill from the cemetery's main entrance. The final closure would be filled with concrete with a warning to Arlington's superintendent, "It is desired that the following remarks be placed on the permanent record DA Form 2122 Record of Internment, victim of a nuclear accident."[1]

So another chapter in the history that is Arlington National Cemetery ends only to await its next destiny.

[1] Memo to John C. Metzler, Superintendent-ANC, from 2Lt Leon S. Monroe II, asst. adj.general, Jan.31,1961


Next: Part Three, Chapter 1: Prelude to Assassination, Aftermath

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