Photos by Doug Freese
Jim Gage, a past commander of American Legion Post 72, told the story of the Unknown Soldier in lieu of his usual talk on the history of Veterans Day during the ceremonies held at the post last Tuesday morning.
An unknown soldier was selected in Great Britain in 1920 to represent the many who died in the Great War. The French buried an unknown soldier in the Arc de Triomphe. The United States chose a soldier to honor in 1921. Six American soldiers from the army of occupation were selected as pallbearers, said Gage. They met at Châlons-sur-Marne, where one of them — Sgt. Edward F. Younger of the 59th Infantry — was faced with four coffins from different areas of the war, all containing unidentifiable remains. After walking around the caskets three times, Younger placed a bouquet of white roses on one of the caskets, indicating that this would be the Unknown Soldier.
“With this historic Armistice Day, President Harding requested that flags be flown from sunrise to sunset at half mast and that all Americans pay silent tribute as the casket was lowered into the tomb at 11 a.m. on November 11, 1921,” read Gage.
The tomb bears the inscription, “Here rests, in honored glory, an American soldier known but to God.”
Gage asked that those present remember that “through the efforts of our veterans and those serving now, war has been kept from the mainland of our country. This is a blessing that many countries around the world have been denied. It is time to say ‘thanks and God speed.’”
In his invocation, Deacon Hank Smith of Saint Mary of the Snow Catholic church, said the dream of America is alive in the celebrations. “While we praise those who have served in the past, and those who serve in the present, who suffered wounds both physical and mental, we pray you will help them, this day, to recover.”
In his closing prayer, Deacon Smith addressed God, noting that “these people are gathered here this day in your name to give gratitude and thanks for our great country and for those who protect it and make our future dreams possible. Those who served in the military; those veterans who are here with us this day and those who are absent. May we always keep their memories of what it is to serve our country so that young people also know the history of our country and those who served.”
Following the ceremony, the attendees were invited into the post for snacks and a visit to the post museum, which features artifacts from the many wars in this country’s history.
Among the most recent additions is a large Nazi flag, which curator William Payne said was acquired only within the past few months, donated by Joe Font. “We had a visitor up here one time, she was European, and she asked, ‘How can you put that [a Nazi flag] up? I said ‘You can’t sanitize history. That’s what it was, a symbol of hate.”
Gage was unsure of how long the tradition of a Veterans Day ceremony has been held at the post. “I’ve been here 61 years, and they were doing it before me,” he said. There used to be a parade, starting with a ceremony at the high school (now Cahill Elementary School), then everybody would walk over from the high school to the post for refreshments. “That was back in the ’50s,” said Gage.
The ceremony had to be moved inside because of rain just once in Gage’s memory. The salute was fired from the veranda, he said.