At long last, Arlington National Cemetery and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have committed to restore – rather than replace -- the historic Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. According to the Army Corps, the restoration work will begin in September 2009.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation has been leading the public campaign to save the Tomb of the Unknowns with the vocal support of many thousands of National Trust members and friends across the country who vigorously support restoration.
The Tomb of the Unknowns was established shortly after World War I to honor our nation’s war dead, particularly those who have lost both their lives and their identities in combat. The Congressionally-authorized tomb monument was created and installed in 1932 according to the designs of architect Lorimer Rich and sculptor Thomas Hudson Jones. The monument’s inscription reads: “Here Rests in Honored Glory An American Soldier Known But To God.” Three bas relief sculptures on the marble monument represent Victory, Valor, and Peace.
Generations of veterans and their families have honored our war dead at the Tomb of the Unknowns. In fact, millions of people visit the Tomb every year, making it one of the best-known historic places in the United States.
Two years ago, in September 2007, officials at Arlington National Cemetery and the Army Corps of Engineers had finalized an ill-considered plan to discard and replace the authentic tomb monument with a “replica.” The tomb was marked for destruction solely because of two repairable cracks in the 48-ton block of marble.
In response, we raised the alarm nationally, and more than 4,000 members and friends of the National Trust urgently wrote to the superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery and to their members of Congress to support preservation of the tomb monument. Senator Jim Webb and Senator Daniel Akaka were instrumental in saving the tomb monument. In January 2008 President Bush signed into law legislation crafted by Senators Webb and Akaka to require the Army to fully explore various treatments for the historic tomb monument, including restoration. This temporary reprieve saved the monument. The Army’s report stated that:
- Marble conservation experts agree that the monument’s cracks are nonstructural and can be repaired to be virtually invisible to the millions of annual visitors to the Tomb of the Unknowns.
- Replacement of the tomb monument with a replica would cost $2.2 million, while preservation-based repair would cost $65,000.
To its credit, the Army Corps informed the National Trust on June 8, 2009, that the Cemetery and Army have reversed course and now have committed to properly repair the tomb monument beginning in September 2009.
We are very pleased that the Arlington Heritage Alliance, Preservation Virginia, American Institute for Conservation, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, Arlington County government, and Virginia Department of Historic Resources each has strongly supported repairing the authentic monument.