“Backstory” Label, Draft #1

One soldier, representing millions.

One soldier, chosen to be the symbol of all who gave their life for their country, who went missing, who can’t be identified. This soldier can’t be identified either — he has no name, no hometown, no family.

But he has a duty.

Unknown individuals have been used to represent all fallen unknown soldiers since the Peloponnesian War in ancient Greece, and in 1921, Congress voted to do the same for those who fought during WWI.

From four unidentifiable soldiers first buried in France, one was randomly selected to represent the Unknown Soldier. The USS Olympia transported this soldier from France to America, and on Armistice Day, 1921, he was re-buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

There he rests, without a name, but with the honor of representing all those who died with their names known but to God.

This was a very hard process for me, and I recognize that I have a long way to go in terms of editing this. The biggest challenge for me: length. This label is about 140 words, way too long, and I can’t figure out what to get rid of, while still meeting my two main tasks:

1. Communicating the emotional intensity of this memorial. Maybe this is more important for Chelsea (who’s writing about the “cult” of the Soldier) than for me (the “creation”), but I really want to hit home the importance and significance of this soldier’s role. I also wanted to do this while still maintaining that the Unknown Soldier is a real person who was killed, and whose family will never truly know the immense honor their deceased loved one is receiving, as opposed to tokenizing and objectifying a corpse.

2. Explaining the ancient/universal roots of this memorial, which I could definitely say more about (not that I have the room). If I were to approach this from a different direction, I could discuss how the US was inspired to do an Unknown Soldiers memorial for WWI after learning France was doing one. I could also describe the actual selection process with the four unidentified soldiers, one chosen at random… but I’m not sure yet how to do that through compelling storytelling.

I’m also unsure about the last line, and I’m sure my classmates may have disagreements with including the word “God” in there. That’s a direct reference to the inscription on the Tomb itself, and I thought it was a nice and meaningful conclusion. But perhaps others will have a better suggestion.

I’m gonna leave it as is, and see what input my classmates have on Thursday, especially regarding making it more concise. I imagine I will do some heavy editing before our second draft is due.


The western panel on the Tomb of the Unknowns, which reads: “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.” Photo credit: Eddie Maloney.


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