Quicksburg resident Philip Bigler has recently released a new book on the history of one of the most unique monuments in the United States - the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The book, “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier: A Century of Honor, 1921-2021,” tells the story of the shrine that was put up to honor the country’s fallen soldiers. Bigler, who worked as a historian at Arlington National Cemetery in the 1980s, said he spent two years doing research on the monument, which was set up at the cemetery after the end of the first World War.
“This monument is the embodiment of these soldiers’ sacrifice to preserve the ideals of the United States,” he said.
The idea of the tomb came from a tradition established by the British and French, where the remains of a soldier who couldn’t be identified would be buried in honor of the soldiers who sacrificed their lives during a major conflict. The United States adopted this tradition after the Great War. The tomb was buried on the plaza of the Memorial Amphitheater on Armistice Day in 1921. Since then, the cemetery would bury an unknown soldier for each major conflict the United States took part in, including World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
Bigler, who taught history, political science and education courses at James Madison University from 2001 to 2010, said what attracted him to the story of the tomb came from his association with Arlington National Cemetery.
“I had this long association with the cemetery,” he said. “I was a historian there around the time of the 40th anniversary of the end of World War II and when the unknown soldier from the Vietnam War was buried. I met a lot of the veterans from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.”
Bigler said he conducted research at various facilities, including the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and the Commission of Fine Arts. He spent days looking at documents that had not seen light of day for almost 100 years.
“It was interesting to learn what they were thinking about back then in regards to the tomb,” Bigler said.
One of the most interesting things Bigler said he learned during his time researching was about the unknown soldier who was buried after the Vietnam War.
“It was interesting to see the behind-the-scenes of the decision-making that went on during that time,” he said. “It was interesting to see the process of how the soldier was chosen.”
Bigler’s book goes into how the soldier’s remains were buried in 1984, but were removed in 1998 after the remains were identified as 1st Lt. Michael Blassie, of the United States Air Force.
The release of Bigler’s book comes two years before the tomb’s centennial.
“Monuments are one of the most important things in our country,” Bigler said. “I thought it was important to recognize this one.”
Bigler said that he hopes the book gives people a better context of American history.
“It’s important to learn about American history and how Arlington reflects that history,” he said. “I hope people find it fascinating, learn something and then go to the cemetery to pay tribute to the sacrifices that were made."
The book is available for purchase at http://www.tomb2021.com. Bigler said that the book eventually will be available at other bookstores and Amazon.