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Army mulls replacement of Tomb
September 20, 2007

The Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery has been patched repeatedly over the years. The most prominent crack cuts across the middle of the marble monument.

The Army plans to make a decision by the end of the month whether to replace the 71-year-old Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.

The decision would be the culmination of years of debate over how to treat several non-structural cracks that officials say diminish the aesthetic value of the 48-ton white marble monument.

"We want to have as flawless as possible a monument to our unknown soldiers," said Army spokesman Sheldon Smith. "But no final decisions have been made."

Mr. Smith said the Army is leaning toward replacing the tomb because the quarry that supplied the marble for the existing tomb has offered to donate a new stone to the cemetery and engrave it. The existing tomb would be donated to the Smithsonian Institution or a military museum if it is replaced.

But that proposal has drawn criticism by some historic preservation groups who think the existing tomb is what makes the monument historically significant. Built to honor unidentified dead soldiers from America's wars, the monument carries the inscription: "Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God."

"It's our nation's most important war memorial," said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Mr. Moe favors repairing the monument. "It should be left in place, so we can honor its history and symbolism."

In an e-mail obtained by The Washington Times, Army Cultural Resources Program Manager Scott Watson asked that the parties involved in the proposal provide input by Aug. 27 for the review process, referred to as the Section 106 process after the enabling legislation, so a decision could be made by Sept. 30.

"Our goal is to complete the Section 106 process and have the [agreement] executed by the four signatories by September 30, 2007," Mr. Watson said.

Posted: 20 September 2007