In a ceremony honoring American unknown Soldiers Oct. 26, Bruno Bourg-Broc made the following observation:
“At the end of World War II, the French poet Paul Edwards said — regarding the millions of deported people who perished in Nazi concentration camps – that if the echo of their voice is extinguished, we will perish.
“Similarly,” Bourg-Broc said, “we can say if the echo of the voices of these Soldiers who gave their lives is never heard again we too will perish.”
Bourg-Broc is the deputy to the French national Chamber of Deputies and mayor to the city of Chalons, France.
October 1921, delegation of French and American representatives consisting of the Armed forces of France, The U.S. Army and the American Legion, await the arrival of four identical caskets to Chalons-sur-Marne (Chalons-en-Champagne), France, bearing the bodies of four unidentified American Soldiers from World War I.
The coffins, identical in looks, were covered in American flags and put on different shipping cases than they arrived to ensure the Soldier choosing would not know where the casket came from.
October 2011, delegation consisting of French and American representatives, from Chalons-en-Champagne, The Reims – Arlington Committee, U.S. Army and the American Legion, head into Arlington National Cemetery to gather at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
On the morning of Oct. 24, 1921, Sgt. Edward F. Younger of the 2nd Bn. 50th Infantry Regiment, U.S. Forces in Germany, was chosen by Quartermaster Maj. Robert Harbold, the officer in charge who controlled all ceremonies, to place a spray of white roses on one of the four identical coffins in honor of the unknown Soldiers.
Younger hailed from Illinois, had enlisted into the Army in February 1917 just two months before America joined World War I. Wounded twice in battle, Younger received the Distinguished Service Cross. During his five years in service Younger took part in many French battles, including Chatteau-Theirry, St. Mihiel, Somme Offensive and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.
The white roses used by Younger in the ceremony had been presented to the delegation by a local Frenchman who lost two sons in the war.
Using the white roses to signify which Unknown Soldier would represent all World War I unknowns, Younger walked around the four caskets several times before placing the roses on the third coffin from the left. The roses remained on the casket even while being interred in Arlington National Cemetery.
On the morning of Oct. 26, 2011, Bourg-Broc and retired Army Col. Harry O. Amos, walked up to the eight-foot-tall gleaming white memorial and placed a spray of white roses at the base of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“It’s a beautiful place, really nice and quiet. I feel respectful,” said Deputy Mayor of Chalons Michael Brun, describing the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Following the 1921 ceremony, the Unknown Soldier was transported via train to the port of La Havre to be loaded onto the USS Olympia prior to heading back to America. The ship docked at the Washington Navy Yard Nov. 9. Upon docking, the Soldier’s remains were moved to the U.S. Capitol building, where it stayed until being interred at Arlington National Cemetery Nov. 11 in honor of the two-year anniversary of the World War I armistice.
The 2011 delegation included representatives of the Arlington County Sister City Association, in honor of the sister city bond between Reims, France, and Arlington. The ceremony was held in honor of the 90th anniversary of the Unknown Soldier being chosen in Chalons-Sur-Marne.
Following the laying of flowers, the delegation gathered at the gravesite of Younger in section 18, where words written by the World War I Soldier, read both in French and English, expressed his gratitude and feelings for the ceremony in 1921. Due to failing health, Younger was unable to attend a ceremony in Chalons-en-Champagne that would unveil a plaque where the chosen unknown American Soldier casket once stood.
“France has always recognized her part in the honors we render to our Unknown Soldier. For the tomb in which he repossesses is surrounded with French earth carried to this country by the USS Olympia,” read Sgt. 1st Class Chad Stackpole, sergeant of the guard for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. “This is why I am happy to join you in thought, you who today have gathered together to renew the faith of the living, and the memory of our Soldiers so they may not have died in vain.”
Later in the day at a reception in the Fort Myer Officers Club, both Col. David Anders, regimental commander of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) and Sgt. Maj. Jeffery Stitzel, regimental command sergeant major, 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) were presented pictures of the two plaques.
Also presented to Anders, as well as Amos, was the medal of honor from the city of Chalons, France, by Bourg-Broc.
“It is truly an honor to receive these plaques on the 90th anniversary of the choice of the World War I unknown,” said Anders. “It will find a place, of honor in the sentinel’s quarters which is below the amphitheater there at the Tomb of the Unknowns.”
Presented to Bourg-Broc was a “picture of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It says U.S. Army Military District of Washington to Chalons 90,” said Maj. Gen. Michael S. Linnington, commanding general Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region and Military District of Washington. “The tomb of the Unknown Soldier is the most reverently honored of American shrines. It is guarded all hours of the day, every day of the year by Soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry (The Old Guard) reminding all that freedom and sacrifice must always go hand-in-hand.”
During the reception, the history of the event as well as the connection between Chalons and the U.S. was mentioned by several speakers.
“There are three people that now honor the unknown Soldiers from World War I, World War II and the Korean War, but of course, we think of all the Soldiers fighting shoulder to shoulder for our common values everywhere, preserving freedom. That is not easy, there are a lot of places, unfortunately, that it has to be done in the hardest possible way,” said Brig. Gen. Bruno Caitucoli, defense attaché, Embassy of France.
Retired Army Brig. Gen. Creighton W. Abrams Jr. from the Army Historical Foundation reflected on the history shared between France and America all the way back to the Revolutionary War, when France enabled Americans to free themselves from England.
“Just a reminder that our relationship between these two countries … has been a very important part of American history,” said Abrams.