Federal Officials Commit to Restore the Authentic Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery

Posted on: June 25th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 6 Comments
The Tomb of the Unknowns (Photo: ©Granitespeaker, Dreamstime.com)

The Tomb of the Unknowns (Photo: ©Granitespeaker, Dreamstime.com)

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.

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The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

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6 Responses

  1. Carol Polk

    June 25, 2009

    It would be nice for the Trust to sponsor an email thankyou letter to Senators Webb and Akaka that those of us who petitioned for restoration could sign.

  2. Steve Colton

    June 25, 2009

    I am but one of many professional conservators who supported the petition to preserve this monument in its most original form possible. Like the Liberty Bell, the cracks and weathering should become a part of the story that is ever ongoing. Thanks to all who worked to share this ideal and especially to those in congress who listened to our pleas. I do hope that the Corps will seek the specialized outside professional assistance available in the stone conservation community before a final plan for the restoration is begun.

  3. Jeanette Ross

    June 25, 2009

    This is truly good news. Thanks to members of Congress who supported this restoration together with those of us who as ordinary citizens wished to save this historic and honored place.

  4. Bart Madison

    June 25, 2009

    It is indeed refreshing to be reminded that there really are saner heads in the DOD.

    I was confident that once the Adult Leadership delved into the issue that they would guide the Corps to the right decision

    Hoo-Rah !!!

    Bart

  5. John Matzko

    June 26, 2009

    As both a historian and a former Tomb guard, I applaud this unusual demonstration of good sense on the part of the federal bureaucracy.

  6. PreservationNation » Blog Archive » Tomb of the Unknowns: “We Do Not Discard Our National Treasures”

    July 7, 2009

    […] As  I mentioned in a post a couple of weeks ago, thanks to the timely intervention of thousands of Americans, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Congress, the authentic Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery will be restored beginning in September 2009. […]