UK Secretary Of State For Defence Pays Respects At The Tomb Of The Unknown Soldier

Photo Credit: Department of Defense

On July 12, 2021, U.K. Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace met with U.S. Secretary of Defence Lloyd J. Austin III in Washington, D.C. The pair discussed their continued transatlantic cooperation, and the meeting came to a close with a ceremony held at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.

An important meeting

Secretary Austin and Wallace met at the Pentagon to reaffirm the relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom. They discussed the importance of continued transatlantic cooperation and the need to continue sharing the burden of addressing the world’s security challenges.

Ben Wallace, Lloyd J. Austin II and Allan Pepin standing at attention in front of a wreath
Photo Credit: Department of Defense

Along with discussing ongoing operations in the Middle East and the U.S. Army’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, the two spoke about strategic competition with a focus on the Indo-Pacific and Europe. Secretary Austin committed to continuing consultations with the U.K. on strategic reviews, while Wallace highlighted the U.K.’s investments in defense modernization.

To conclude, they said they look forward to deepening the U.S.–U.K. defense cooperation, a sentiment reinforced by the signing of a one-year extension for the U.S.–U.K. Statement of Intent Regarding Enhanced Cooperation on Carrier Operations and Maritime Power Projection. It has now been extended until January 5, 2023.

Ben Wallace bowing in front of a wreath during the ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Photo Credit: Department of Defense

After the meeting, Wallace laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier during an Armed Forces Full Honors Wreath Ceremony. He was joined by Austin and Major General Allan M. Pepin, Commanding General of the U.S. Army Military District of Washington.

History of the Tomb

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is the final resting place for a handful of America’s unidentified service members. It has been the home of one troop who lost his life during World War I, a service that was officiated over by President Warren G. Harding.

In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill that would allow tributes to the unknown soldiers of World War II and the Korean War. Those selected were interred during a ceremony in 1958.

The same happened with an unknown from the Vietnam War, whose remains were later exhumed and subjected to DNA testing. This identified him as Air Force 1st Lieutenant Michael Joseph Blassie. In his place, it was decided the crypt would remain vacant. Its cover was replaced with a new inscription, reading: Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen, 1958–1975.

Time-honored traditions

The neoclassical sarcophagus stands atop a hill at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., and serves as a place of mourning and reflection. Its white marble features six sculpted images of wreaths, three on each side, to represent the six major operations of WWI, as well as three Greek figures to represent Victory, Valor, and Peace. The back features an inscription, which reads: “Here rests in honored glory the American soldier known but to God.”

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is guarded by Tomb Guard sentinels, who are posted at the crypt 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They are an elite volunteer unit within the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as “The Old Guard,” the oldest active-duty infantry unit in the Army.

Ben Wallace placing a wreath on a stand
Photo Credit: Department of Defense

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Visitors are allowed to watch the time-honored Changing of the Guard ceremony. It starts with the Relief Commander announcing the ceremony, after which the Tomb Guard marches in 21-step increments around the Tomb. Doing so symbolizes the 21-gun salute.

After, they execute a shoulder-arms movement to place their weapon on the shoulder closest to those watching the ceremony, to signify they are protecting the Tomb from any potential threat.