PARIS – Every evening at 6.30 p.m., France pays homage to its war dead with the re-lighting of the Eternal Flame and a memory of the nation’s Unknown Soldier.
Dozens of Americans joined the ritual at the Arc de Triomphe on Tuesday evening after a 10-day pilgrimage through France to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the unveiling of the American Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Participants said the pilgrimage reflected the depth and warmth of US-French relations at ground level, even as diplomatic ties broke because of a submarine acquisition agreement that led France last week to recall its ambassador to the United States for the first time.
The group visited the four WWI cemeteries where candidates for the American Unknown Soldier were chosen in 1921, then arrived in Châlons-en-Champagne, where the soldier was selected, for a ceremonial vigil and a parade.
They continued to Havre, where the USS Olympia returned the Unknown Soldier to American shores, sending him en route to his final resting place in Arlington National Cemetery.
“We were all very honored to see the respect and affection the French people have for us,” said Craig Fallon, who served as a grave-keeper in Arlington from 1962 to 1963.
A veteran member of the Society of the Honor Guard, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, presents colors at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe, Paris, October 26, 2021. The American Society includes current grave guards and alumni who served at Arlington National Cemetery. ()
The group traveled with an American flag as they flew over the four WWI cemeteries, a piece of wood from the USS Olympia and other treasures. The collection will be on display at the Washington Navy Yard and the Capitol Rotunda before arriving at the National Cemetery on Veterans Day.
Remembering the Unknown Soldier, “we remember every family that has no place to mourn their loved one,” said Gavin McIlvenna, the pilgrimage’s chief organizer, who served as a grave keeper from 1997 to 1998.
The idea of honoring an unidentified soldier began in France in 1916, as World War I raged across the country and the end result remained uncertain.
After the war, 21-year-old veteran Auguste Thin was chosen to select the French Unknown Soldier from eight candidates. The soldier was buried at the Arc de Triomphe on November 11, 1920.
The United States largely followed the French example and chose Sgt. Edward Younger to make the selection. A year after the French, the American Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was consecrated.
“The French Unknown Soldier is just as honored and cherished as our own Unknown Soldier,” Fallon said.
On Tuesday at the Arc de Triomphe, representatives laid wreaths and flowers from organizations such as the American Legion, the Association of the US Army, the Democrats Abroad, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the American Gold Star Mothers, the Junior ROTC of Defense Ministry schools in Germany. , the Society of the Guard of Honor, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the United States Embassy in Paris.
France is the United States’ oldest ally, and there has been a shared sense of gratitude since the American Revolution, said Denise VanBuren, general chairman of the DAR.