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Tomb's Fate Still A Mystery
November 12, 2007

The fate of the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery was uncertain this Veterans Day weekend, as the Army has yet to decide whether to replace or repair the 75-year-old monument, which is marred by several large cracks.

Under consideration for years, the idea of replacing the monument has pitted conservationists, who think the original structure should be restored, against those who say that replacing the tomb is inevitable and will properly memorialize America's fallen soldiers.

The Senate unanimously approved an amendment to a bill in September that, if signed into law, would officially halt any action by the Army for six months.

Senator Daniel K. Akaka, D-Hawaii, chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, sponsored the amendment with Senator Jim Webb, D-Virginia. The amendment requires the Army and the Department of Veterans Affairs, after the six-month period, to submit a report that includes cost estimates and repair options.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has led a campaign against replacing the tomb, and has contacted members of Congress and asked people to write the superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery, John C. Metzler Jr.

"This is probably the most important war memorial in America," said Richard Moe, the trust's president. "It has served since 1932 for Americans to come and grieve for their lost loved ones, and there is absolutely no reason for it to be replaced.

"Even though there are cracks in the marble," Moe continued, "they are purely cosmetic and can easily be repaired."

The tomb, formerly known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, is guarded 24 hours a day, and there are more than 2,000 wreath-laying ceremonies there each year. Every president has paid a visit since the memorial was created.

Under an Army proposal, the three main pieces that make up the 82-ton sarcophagus-like structure would be replaced. Metzler said the cemetery hoped to donate the old pieces to an institution that would protect them.

One of the cracks cuts through the figures on the monument that represent Valor, Victory and Peace. The crack underlines carvings of inverted wreaths on two sides of the structure, and the words "an American" in the only inscription: "Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God."

On Nov. 11, 1921, the third anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I, a soldier was interred in a subterranean vault on a layer of soil taken from French battlefields. A marble lid was placed atop the vault. Lorimer Rich, an architect, and Thomas Hudson Jones, a sculptor, won a subsequent competition with their design of a simple tomb, which opened to the public in 1932.

The Army had set September 30, 2007, as the deadline for completing the review process required by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. Those plans, however, are essentially at a standstill while awaiting movement on the bill with the amendment.


Posted: 12 November 2007