USS Olympia Commemorates 101years of Service to the Unknown Soldier

1 month ago

During the lead up to the Centennial of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (1921-2021) the Society dove deeper into the history of each of the Unknown Soldiers buried on the east plaza of the Memorial Amphitheater. This led to bringing to light the unique history of the US Navy and US Marine Corps and their involvement with the responsibility to secure, protect, and transport the casket from the port city of LeHavre, France to the United States. This difficult journey home came with tempest seas and a determination to protect the Unknown Soldier at all costs.

Vietnam Marine Veteran J.R. Neubeiser captured this story for the Centennial, and we encourage you to read this amazing tale HERE.

On October 25, 2022 members of the Society visited the USS Olympia which is berthed at the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia, PA. They were joined by members of the Tomb Guard Platoon, Souvenir Francis (US), and a descendant of Congressman Hamilton Fish III who wrote the legislation to bring home the World War I Unknown Soldier in 1921. Joined by the museum staff they conducted a simple flower ceremony aboard ship to commemorate the 101th anniversary of the mission to bring home the World War I Unknown Soldier.

The day started off with overcast weather and light rain but turned overcast by the time the ceremony started. Former Sentinel Kevin Donovan (1981-82) planned the ceremony and had this to say: “It was a good time as a Sentinel to think back on the ship and the Unknown Soldier with the weather that was endured on the journey home. No matter what kind of inclement weather we might have been presented with, we wouldn't have had it so bad.”

For some of the young members of the Tomb Guard Platoon in attendance, this was the first time they had stepped foot on the ship that was part of the history that connects them to their duty. Led by the Sergeant of the Guard, SFC Brian Gougler (2011-13, 2022-Present), they were given a tour by the museum staff and walked in the footsteps of those sailors and Marines that watched over the Unknown Soldier in 1921. For many, standing where the Unknown Soldier was lashed to the deck was a deeply moving experience.

Members of the Tomb Guard Platoon L-R: SPC Thomas*, PFC Simpson*, SPC Segura*, PFC Snyder*, SFC Gougler (2011-13, 2022-Present), SGT Leister (2019-22), SPC Archer (2021-Current), SPC Paschall (2021-Current), and SPC Smith*

“It was awesome having the SOG and nine of his men with him. These young Sentinels got to experience their history up close and real, not just in a history book. They got to see and feel something I didn't until I was in my mid to late fifties, so good on them.” – Kevin Donovan (1981-82)

“It was truly overwhelming to return to the USS Olympia after 10 plus years for the 101 year ceremony. The nine active guards that I brought with me had never been there before and told me how amazing it was to finally see the ship they had only heard or read about. I think the most humbling thing for them was that they learned the Marines had stood guard on board the USS Olympia during a hurricane to protect the unknown from going overboard. It was truly a great experience and I look forward to having active guards at future events.” - SFC Brian J. Gougler (2011-13, 2022-Present)

Former Sentinel Kevin Donovan (1981-82) leads the simple flower ceremony aboard the USS Olympia on October 25, 2022

The simple flower ceremony involved placing the Centennial Bouquet on the spot where the Unknown Soldier was lashed to the ship. Led by the senior Tomb Guard present, George March (1963-65), the bouquet was placed upon the special plaque. This was followed by a bouquet from Mr. Thierry Ohaunu, President of the American Society of Le Souvenir Français, then Mr. Alain Dupuis, the President of the Federation of French War Veterans.

Thierry Ohaunu, President of the American Society of Le Souvenir Français presents a bouquet of roses.
Alain Dupuis, the President of the Federation of French War Veterans presents a bouquet of roses.

"It was a profound privilege, as a representative of the citizens of the United States, and in particular, of the unknown family of the Unknown Soldier, to lay the Society's white rose bouquet aboard the Olympia at the place where he was transported home from France. I was impressed by the solemnity of the tribute expressed by every attendee at the ceremony; active Tomb Guards, those who represented our French allies during the war, and Alexa Fish Ward who represented the family of Hamilton Fish. It warmed my heart to see our flag rippling in the breeze on the stern of the Olympia as each bouquet and rose was laid and silent prayers were seen being offered for the Unknown Soldier and all whom he represents." - George March (1963-65)

Mrs. Alexa Fish Ward briefly explaining that her grandfather, Congressman Hamilton Fish III, was the gentleman who wrote the legislation to make this all happen, and then placed the first of the white roses.

Once all who were present placed their rose, taps was played to conclude the ceremony.

“The Independence Seaport Museum truly is honored to preserve Olympia in part as a national remembrance of our fallen soldiers, particularly from the Great War (World War I). We thank the Society of the Honor Guard, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, for their support of this remembrance service.” - Peter Seibert, Independence Seaport Museum President and CEO

“On behalf of the Independence Seaport Museum staff, we thank the Society of the Honor Guard, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, for their dedication and mission to preserve the story of not only the American Unknown Soldier from World War I but also all soldiers who were never identified. May the historical marker we gathered in front of to mark the anniversary serve as a reminder of their sacrifices and of our commitment to educate all those who come after.” - Michael Flynn, Independence Seaport Museum Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer

To learn more about the World War I Unknown Soldier please visit our website.

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