American History Essay Winner - The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

1 year ago

During the National Commemoration of the Centennial of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (1921-2021), the Society proposed to the federal government that an essay contest be created with the theme "Why is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Important to You". While unfortunately this was not adopted by the federal government, the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) saw how important this was and implemented an essay contest within their education programs.

More information on: NSDAR Educational Essay Contests

Reaching out to all members of NSDAR, the American History Essay contest received hundreds of entries, of which Ms. Penelope Kramer submitted a winning essay title "The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier".

Ms. Kramer, a 7th grader Seton School in Manassas, Virginia and Chapter V of the Virginia Daughters of the American Revolution graciously approved releasing her essay.

"[Ms. Kramer] was honored by our Virginia State Regent, Laurie Nesbitt, and received the DAR Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Commemorative pin, donated by the District V Director and pinned by the Virginia State Regent. Virginia is quite proud of our dedication to the educational programs of DAR as well as the historic preservation aspect of our organization."

- Nancy M. Redman Hill
District V Director, VA DAR
Honorary Regent, Pentagon Chapter NSDAR

The Society strongly encourages all educators to find unique ways to introduce history to students and promote essay writing and poetry as a way to express their thoughts and emotions on subjects.

Third picture is Penelope Kramer delivering her essay to the 117 attendees.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

When our country declared war, I was excited. I didn’t realize how horrible it would be. But I do now. That’s why I’m going to write my memories, so I’ll never forget them.

It all started on April 6, 1917, when we declared war on Germany. I wasn’t really worried then, only excited. I still remember when we heard the news. We were sitting around the table having breakfast, and my father saw it in his newspaper. I looked around at my family: Mama, Daddy, the twins Bernadette and Emily, and my older brother Patrick. My sisters weren’t listening, but the rest of us were. I paused for a moment to look at my brother. He was twenty years old, tall, with dark brown hair, and green eyes. I was twelve and the twins were four. I was worried for a moment, then my fear passed.

It was about six months later when Patrick enlisted. Six months of talk about the war. I remember how I felt and how my mother seemed ready to cry, but she smiled bravely through tears. Two weeks later, I got a letter from Patrick. He sent it from his training camp. It was brief, but I gathered it’d be over five months before he would go to war. I stopped thinking much of him going, confident the war would be over by then. I received three other letters before I got one that came as a horrible shock.

"Dear Anna, (he wrote) I have just heard that I’ll be leaving soon, going over the sea to France. I wonder if I shall be in a battle soon. I am only now a private in the Marines, but I may be promoted. Give my love to Mama, Father and the twins.

Love, Patrick"

I often thought about the war and the soldiers, especially my brother. I got one letter from him, which spoke briefly of fighting in the trenches. Upon reading it, Mama turned white. It wasn’t until the tenth of July that we saw in the newspaper another battle had been fought at Belleau Wood, by the Marines like Patrick. That very day we got a telegram which said:

"Mr. and Mrs. Silver, we regret to tell you your son, Patrick James Silver, is missing in action."

Their telegram wrought havoc in our home. I locked myself in my bedroom, unable to believe this was true. Mama did the same. Daddy shut himself in his study, and the twins, scared by our reactions, ran and hid outside. I clung to a faint hope he was alive, but I knew he probably wasn’t. It wasn’t until the war ended that we got an official notification of his death. We would never get his body, but we got something else. A gold star! My mother lifted it carefully out and put it on our flag. She had tears in her eyes, but also pride. It still seemed unthinkable that he was dead. Several dreary years passed, until on the morning of March 5, 1921, my father was reading the paper, when suddenly he stopped talking and read silently. Then he said quietly, “How would you like to go to Patrick’s funeral?” We looked at him surprised. “Patrick’s funeral? How could we?” Mama asked. He had been killed and blown apart by a bomb and his body destroyed.

There is a ceremony,” my father said slowly. “A tomb is being made, to an unknown soldier. Four unknown bodies from France were selected, and Sgt. Edward F. Younger picked one coffin. Now there is going to be a tomb made to honor that one.” He looked at my mother and said, “Well, Emily. Should we go?

My mother nodded slowly and said, “Yes, I think we should.”

Several months later, on November 10, we set out. We lived in Richmond, so it was about a three-hour journey. We took a train, and it was full of people coming to Washington, probably to see the ceremony. When we arrived, we went to a hotel to spend the night. The next morning, we got up early and headed to the ceremony. When it started we were near the front. The coffin was guarded by eight men who had fought in the war: five solders, two sailors, and one Marine. There were so many people there! I felt crowded at first, but then the coffin went by and it was all I could think about. I know there was practically no chance it was my brother. But I still felt that it was him everyone was honoring. I was near the front in the beginning, but by the time the president made his speech, so many people had pressed forward that I was at the back and couldn’t hear. Instead I looked at the coffin. As I stared at it, I realized something. I had been foolish at the beginning of the war, thinking only of how exciting war was. I realized now that war was horrible, but it had made heroes. The men who fought and died for their country, that the rest of us might live, were heroes. They deserve to be honored, especially the unknown ones like him we were honoring today. He stood for the rest of them too. I prayed for my brother and all the rest of the soldiers.

After the ceremony, we went back to our hotel and the next day we rode home. When we got there, Mama told me amazing news—she was going to have a baby! I was so excited and right away started asking questions: Boy or girl? When? What name? Mama couldn’t answer many but I didn’t mind. I couldn’t wait to find out.

That was years ago. Mama had her baby, a boy named William Patrick. He really is amazingly like Patrick. He is 15 now, younger than Patrick at the beginning of the war. Thankfully, though, I don’t think he’ll ever have to go to war.

- Penelope Kramer

Mrs. Laurie Nesbitt, Virginia DAR State Regent, Nancy Hill, District V Director and Penelope Kramer, American History Essay winner.

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