But regular readers of this blog know all of this because you have read their stories on this site. These men were AMERICAN BORN men, who were awarded the Victoria Cross. And these six were not the only ones. Watch for future blogs on this subject.
Should I write a letter to the editor. Nah! ... probably too late.
It was November 11th 1921 when the United States laid the first US Unknown Soldier to rest at Arlington. Others have followed. But these would not be the first. France had already done this and so had Britain. The American process started when A US General in France, on hearing of the Unknown Soldier memorials both in France and England, thought the US should do the same. His idea was taken up by US Congressman Hamilton Fish Jr, a resolution made and was approved in March of 1921.
This called for the creation of a tomb at Arlington, the selection of one Unknown Soldier currently buried in one of the several American cemeteries in France, and the repatriation of those remains to Arlington. It also called for the creation of a national holiday on 11 November, so that people all across the country could stop and reflect of their warriors of the Great War. The date chosen was the third anniversary off the end of the World War. The US Quarter Master General's office then received a directive from the War Office to make the selection, and they in turn directed their head of the QM services in France to select 6 pall bearers, chose one to make the selection and repatriate those remains back to DC.
After double checking all known records at four different cemeteries, and ensuring that there were absolutely no known clues as to their identity, a selection of one from each of the four cemeteries was made. The remains were placed in identical coffins and trucked to the City Hall at Chalons-sur-Marne France were they were placed in a specially decorated room and then the matter was turned over to the pallbearers, men selected for their fighting in the fields of France and their bravery. They were taken into a room and their jobs explained. Then one, a highly decorated soldier by the name of Sgt Younger was selected to himself select from among the four coffins which it would be that would be returned to the United States.
Sergeant Younger is believed to be the soldier on the left in the dark uniform and in the room were the selection was to be made. He is pictured to the left.
After the selection was made the body laid in state until the next day, the other three immediately being rushed off to another cemetery and buried. The following day the chosen coffin was taken by train to Le Havre France where it met up with the USS Olympia for its trip across the ocean and back to US territory. (The Olympia was the Admiral's flag ship during the Spanish American War that took out the Spanish Navy that you read about in this space most recently.) In the above picture it appears to be Sergeant Younger leading the group as they boarded the Olympia for its sail home. (Note 2 uniformed men in the foreground who appear to be saluting.)
The Olympia, pictured above, but on an earlier date, arrived back in the US on 9 November 1921, and the body of the unknown soldier is shown finally touching down on American soil on the right. Note again the officer in the foreground who appears to be saluting his arrival.
The Unknown soldier arrives at the Capital, and his coffin is seen here being decorated by none other than US President Harding. After two days of lying in state at the rotunda, a privilege extended to very few, a service was held at Arlington on November 11th 1921. But the day before that happened, from early daylight till just before midnight some 90,000 citizens came to pass by the coffin to pay their deepest respects. The next day the press would state that virtually everyone in the city of Washington came out to see the procession. It included hundreds of US and international dignitaries including the most senior of military, government, and congressional members. There were members of the Supreme Court, and governors and or representatives from every state in the union and many veterans organizations as well as "Medal of Honor men three abreast" and said to be in a long line, though numbers were not given.
Numerous speeches were given by US and world leaders at the plaza of the new Memorial Amphitheatre standing on top of a rising that overlooks Washington. Here the leaders would take their turns presenting the highest of bravery awards from around the world. The bravery medals were placed on the coffin by dignitaries from Belgium, France, Italy, Romania, Czechoslovakia and Poland. At the direction of England's King George V, lord Beatty, Admiral of the Fleet stepped up to the coffin and placed the Victoria Cross on the flag. It was inscribed..." The Unknown Warrior of the United States of America." As he stepped back he saluted the warrior. When the Belgian Croix de Guerre was presented by Lt General Jacques on behalf of the King of the Belgians, he approached the coffin, said a few words then plucked his own medal of his breast and placed it on the tomb. It had earlier been pinned on his chest... by his own King.
Britain also presented at least 15 different wreaths from various interests back in London. And to follow him came Canada's Prime Minister Robert Borden who was accompanied by Victoria Cross recipient Sergeant John Young (who was awarded his VC for actions on the same day as William Metcalf above noted. A second VC recipient also accompanying The Prime Minister was Sergeant George Richardson, then a resident of Canada, and at age 89, was the then oldest living VC recipient in the world. He would die two years later. As Canada in those days was a member of the British Commonwealth, her highest medal for bravery was the VC, just presented by Admiral Beatty. Thus the PM would lay a wreath on behalf of the people of Canada.
So there you have it...The American sixth VC recipient, but later blogs will introduce you to even more of these heroes. Stay tuned!