Korean War Unknown Soldier
Summary of War
The Korean War started on June 25, 1950, as Communist North Korean forces pushed deep into South Korea. The United States of America (U.S.) condemned this action and sent forces from Japan into Korea. U.S. President Harry S. Truman appointed General Douglas MacArthur as the commander of the newly formed United Nations (UN) Command.
The UN forces were able to stop the thrust of the North Korean military in the southeast corner of the peninsula making their stand in what became known as the Pusan Perimeter. It was then that the UN Forces opened another front in the war by launching an amphibious attack on the port city of Inchon. The UN forces were then able to push the North Korean forces back to the Yalu River along the Chinese border. It was shortly thereafter that the Chinese became involved in the conflict. Nearly 300,000 Chinese soldiers poured into North Korea across the Yalu and pushed the U.S. and South Korean forces back to the 38th parallel. It was during this Chinese offensive that saw the U.S. Marines fight their way out of the Chosin Reservoir. Once the new line of defense was established at the 38th parallel, the war became a stalemate.
On July 27, 1953, an armistice was signed resulting in the cessation of hostilities and Prisoners of War (POW) exchanges. However, this armistice never actually satisfied the belligerents, and UN forces have been in place along the 38th parallel ever since. With the peninsula divided, both sides began the long process of rebuilding their nations and burying their dead.
Just as in World War II (WWII), several changes to the way U.S. fought happened under fire. Close air support began to be refined, the helicopter was introduced to the battlefield as a means to transport troops and to evacuate casualties from the combat zones, ties to North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) became stronger, and the integration of the U.S. Armed Forces allowed U.S. Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines to fight side by side for the first time [^f1].
General MacArthur, who publicly challenged President Truman for unlimited control of the U.S. forces, was fired by Truman for insubordination; General Matthew Ridgeway was named as his replacement in April 1951.
The Korean War took the lives of 36,516 U.S. troops. One of those fallen heroes lies under the plaza at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (Tomb) in Arlington National Cemetery (ANC). He represents those who fought and lived and those who fought and died.
In 1955, at the urgent request of the American Veterans of WWII (AMVETS), the U.S. Army was asked to proceed with the selection and burial of an unknown to represent the Korean War. A bill was introduced in the U.S. Congress, under which an unknown soldier from the Korean War would be returned to ANC. A House subcommittee amended the bill, to provide that the burial of an unknown from the Korean War should take place on Memorial Day 1958 in conjunction with the burial of an unknown from WWII. This amended bill was passed as Public Law 975, 84th Congress.
The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific was the setting for the selection ceremony since all of the unknown war dead from the Korean War had been assembled and buried there. Four unknown candidates were selected from various locations in the cemetery for the final ceremony, and placed in identical U.S. flag-draped caskets. The remains were then escorted by the Hawaii Armed Services Police to the U.S. Army’s Mortuary at Kapalama Basin to be inspected and re-casketed. Since no clues to possible identity were discovered with any of the remains, it was not necessary to exhume alternate remains [^f2]. The four sets of remains were each wrapped in new burial sheets and blankets and placed in four new identical caskets. To further ensure that the remains would always be unidentifiable, the exhumation group gathered together all local records concerning the cases and executed a certificate of destruction.
Once the remains had been re-casketed for the final selection ceremony, they were placed in a special room at the mortuary, with a military police guard on constant duty. With one exception, no one was allowed to enter the room unless accompanied and observed by the guard; on this one occasion a U.S. Army colonel entered the room alone for the sole purpose of arranging the caskets.
Early on the morning of May 15, 1958, the four caskets were placed in funeral coaches at the mortuary and transported to the cemetery under the escort of the Armed Services Police. The ceremony, which was attended by nearly 1,200 spectators, began with the invocation by Chaplain Colonel F.B. Henry. Lieutenant General Robert M. Cannon followed with a brief address to the audience along with an introduction of Master Sergeant Ned Lyle, who was designated to select the Korean War unknown.
MSG Lyle, a recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross for heroic action during the Korean War, took a wreath of blue and white carnations [^f3] and stood for approximately one minute facing the four caskets, deliberating and looking at each one. He then walked smartly to the end casket at his left, and placed the wreath. After taking one step backward, he rendered the hand salute.
A benediction concluded the formal ceremony, but everyone remained in place while U.S. Navy pallbearers carried the Korean War Unknown to a bier at the foot of the flagpole to lay in repose. Later that afternoon, the casket was placed in a funeral coach and returned to the mortuary where a guard of honor watched over it.
The U.S. Navy was given the responsibility of transporting the Korean Unknown Soldier home. The bodies of the Korean War Unknown Soldier and the Trans-Pacific unknown candidate were taken to the U.S. Naval Air Station at Barber’s Point, not too far distant from historic Pearl Harbor.
In the early morning hours of May 17th1958 a four engine C-54 Skymaster of the Fleet Tactical Support Squadron VR-21 received the Korean War Unknown and the Trans-Pacific candidate at Barbers Point Naval Air Station (NAS) and transported them to Naval Base at Guantanamo, Cuba.
Arriving at McCalla Field NAS Guantanamo, twelve Sailors accepted the caskets with reverence and respect and transported them to the Naval Hospital.
The caskets of the Korean War Unknown Soldier and the Trans-Pacific candidate remained under guard at the Navy mortuary until May 23, 1958 when they were transported to the dock and carried by motor launch to the starboard side of the USS Boston. At 11:10 a.m. on Friday May 23rd the Boston left her anchorage at Guantanamo for the North Atlantic.
View the USS Boston log for May 23, 1958 HERE
On May 23rd, the remains of the Korean War Unknown Soldier and the Trans-Pacific unknown candidate were place aboard the USS Boston, the world’s first combat guided-missile ship. The ship then departed for its rendezvous with the USS Blandy, which carried the Trans-Atlantic unknown candidate, off the Virginia Capes.
On the early morning of May 26th, the remains of the Trans-Atlantic unknown candidate was transferred from the USS Blandy by high-line to join the other remains aboard the USS Boston. As the casket reached a mid-point between the two ships, honors were rendered. The USS Boston, now carrying all three remains, headed toward the final transfer and final selection ceremony. The USS Canberra, a guided-missile cruiser accepted the three caskets by high-line. The crews of both ships, dressed in white ceremonial uniforms, stood at attention during the transfer.
The final selection ceremony of the WWII unknown began promptly at noon aboard the USS Canberra. Following the ceremony, the WWII Unknown and the Korean War Unknown were transferred back aboard the USS Blandyfor transportation up the Potomac to begin their journey to ANC.
View the Blandy log for May 27, 1958 HERE
In a rather poignant moment in the journey toward Washington, D.C., the crew manned the rail as the ship passed Mount Vernon and the tomb of President George Washington. A bell tolled, the ensign was lowered, and Taps was rendered as the sailors stood at attention. On May 27th, the USS Blandy arrived at the U.S. Naval Gun Factory. The caskets, accompanied by a joint honor guard, were brought from below in preparation for the reception ceremony the next day.
In preparation for the lying in state ceremony, the U.S. Capitol architect had provided the Lincoln Catafalque, and a second catafalque identical in dimensions. The two crypts at the Tomb had also been completed. The ceremonies had been completed in early May 1958 and between May 12th and 23rd, every ceremony and every administrative function had been rehearsed at least twice.
On May 28, 1958 troops and officials began to take stations for the ceremony. Aboard the USS Blandy, the sailors and officers manned the rail. As the U.S. Navy Band concluded the hymns, the two groups of body bearers boarded the USS Blandy to remove the caskets. The World War II Unknown Soldier was taken ashore first followed by the Korean War Unknown Soldier. The caskets were carried to funeral coaches at the end of the pier and placed inside simultaneously. Following another salute, the procession departed to the east plaza of the U.S. Capitol.
View the Blandy log for May 28, 1958 HERE
A joint honor cordon formed a corridor up the east steps to the U.S. Capitol rotunda. Inside the rotunda, standing six deep in a semicircle around the south end were many distinguished guests. The two catafalques were in the center of the rotunda. As a hymn was played, the pallbearers removed the caskets from the funeral coaches and formed a column led by the clergy, with the WWII Unknown in front. The procession passed through the joint honor cordon at a slow cadence, and when it entered the rotunda, divided to the right and left. The pallbearers then made a semicircle to the rotunda’s far side then turned back to the catafalques in the center of the rotunda. The caskets were then placed on the biers and the bearers were dismissed. A Joint Guard of Honor (death watch) was then posted. Vice-President Richard Nixon, as President of the U.S. Senate, placed a wreath at the head of the biers. Then the Speaker of the House, Sam Rayburn, and the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, Dr. Guillermo Sevilla-Sacasa of Nicaragua, placed wreaths in honor of the Unknowns. Shortly after the wreath ceremonies, the public was admitted into the rotunda.
The Unknowns lay in state from midmorning on May 28th to 1:00 P.M. on May 30th. Tributes of flowers were accepted and arranged in the rotunda throughout during this period. On May 29th, the caskets were switched so that the Korean War Unknown rested on the Lincoln Catafalque. At the same time, the catafalques were moved so that the WWII Unknown kept the senior position on the right.
On May 30th, some 250 officers and enlisted men were to occupy fifty-one posts along the route to ANC. Men from the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (Old Guard) manned rope and security cordons. Part of them formed a cordon around the Memorial Amphitheater to keep the ceremony area clear and later to direct movement from the Memorial Amphitheater to the Tomb. The rest manned a rope cordon along Roosevelt Drive, the route of the procession. In all, troops manned about six miles of rope. Medical aid was also available during all phases of the ceremonies due to the extreme heat. Four Aid stations were set up, each staffed by a medical officer, nurse, and an attendant, equipped with supplies and an ambulance. Medics, in sedans, were to follow the procession to ANC to pick up and treat anyone who became ill in the ranks.
At 12:59 P.M. the U.S. Naval School of Music Band sounded attention. The pallbearers, with the WWII Unknown leading, moved the caskets out of the rotunda. At the same moment, the saluting battery on the grounds of the Washington Monument began firing minute guns. The firing continued until the close of the ceremonies at ANC except for a pausing during two minutes of silence observed at the Memorial Amphitheater. The cease-fire signal for the minute guns would be the firing of the 21-gun salute at ANC.
During a hymn by the U.S. Navy Band, the procession descended the steps and the caskets were secured to the caissons. The Joint Armed Forces Color Guard took post ten paces ahead of the clergy while the pallbearers stationed themselves three on each side of each caisson. The cortege then moved north from the plaza to join the escort of the procession on Constitution Avenue. The full procession started toward ANC a few minutes after 1:00 P.M. Along the route was a joint honor cordon. When the procession arrived at the ANC, the caissons, which had been moving abreast, shifted into a column led by the caisson bearing the WWII Unknown. As the caissons entered ANC through Memorial Gate, twenty jet fighters and twenty bombers passed overhead with one plane missing from each formation.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Vice President Nixon had arrived from the White House, but remained outside the Memorial Amphitheater until dignitaries in the cortege had taken their seats. The pallbearers removed the caskets from the caissons and, led as before with clergy and colors, carried them inside.
The WWII Unknown was borne through the south entrance and the Korean War Unknown through the entrance on the north. Just inside the Memorial Amphitheater, each casket was set on a moveable bier and wheeled around the colonnade to the apse where the WWII Unknown was placed in front of President Eisenhower and the Korean War Unknown in front of Vice President Nixon. After the caskets were situated, the U.S. Marine Band played the National Anthem. After the invocation, a two-minute period of silence was observed. President Eisenhower then rose and placed a Medal of Honor on each casket. As the funeral was brought to a close, the Unknowns were taken into the Memorial Amphitheater’s Trophy Room.
The Unknowns were taken from the Trophy Room, in a procession that included the Presidential party, to the head of the Plaza steps where the procession halted. After a salute by the U.S. Army Band, the procession descended the steps and the pallbearers placed the caskets over the crypts. They then took hold of the U.S. flags that had draped each casket and held them taut above the caskets. The salute battery, from the Old Guard, then fired a 21-gun salute. After the salute, a firing squad from the Old Guard, fired the traditional three volleys followed by the rendering of Taps. The pallbearers then folded the U.S. flags and presented them to the President and Vice President, who in turn gave them to ANC officials for safekeeping.
The presentation of the U.S. flags completed the interment. After the participants had departed the Plaza, the public was allowed to file by the crypts and pay their respects. Later in the evening, ANC Superintendent John C. "Jack" Metzler and his assistant, Frank A. Lockwood, lowered the caskets. The pallbearers stood behind a guide chain and saluted as the caskets were lowered into their respective crypts. This was the last rite that throughout the day had involved some 4,800 members of the U.S. Armed Forces.
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Did you know?
What is the process to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier?
Wreath laying ceremonies are conducted thousands of times each year by many organizations. If you are going soon, there is likely no availability for conducting this ceremony as the slots fill up at least six months in advance. Please visit arlingtoncemetery.mil for more detailed information and to request that honor if you are part of an organization planning a visit.
Wreaths are provided or arranged to be delivered by the public. All questions you may have about that ceremony can be answered on the ANC website or through the cemetery staff.