One hundred years ago, America’s WWI Unknown Soldier was making his way home.
This year, eight DoDEA Europe JROTC cadets and two instructors joined a group of Americans on the last stop of the pilgrimage that followed his journey. Cdt/SGT Esteban Morales from Vilseck High School explained, “I learned that the U.S. and France have a long standing alliance with deep roots that date back for hundreds of years.”
On October 27, the cadets attended the ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe, where each evening, France pays tribute to its Unknown Soldier by lighting the Eternal Flame.
“Going to the ceremony was very meanful, knowing that people continuously pay tribute to soldiers who remain unknown, knowing that the guards stay protecting the tombs for 24 hrs and never stop," reflected Ansbach Middle High School Cdt/1LT Victoria Young.
AMHS Cadets joined representatives from the American Legion, the Association of the U.S. Army, Democrats Abroad, Daughters of the American Revolution, American Gold Star Mothers, the Society of the Honor Guard, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the U.S. Embassy Paris in laying wreaths and flowers. Cadets placed the wreath from JROTC DODEA at the base of the tomb which bears the inscription ICI REPOSE UN SOLDAT FRANÇAIS MORT POUR LA PATRIE 1914–1918 ("Here lies a French soldier who died for the fatherland 1914–1918”).
“I was able to meet and learn the symbolism of the Tomb Guards,” said Cdt/CSM Cadence Wahl, from Stuttgart High School. “I also had the honor of laying the wreath on the tomb under the Arc de Triomphe, which was significant because of the respect I was able to pay to the soldiers. The ceremony to me meant honoring those souls who died, never to be identified, during the World Wars."
Following the ceremony, the cadets attended a formal dinner at the Ecole Militaire, a French military school founded in 1750 by King Louis XV. There, cadets learned the details of the Unknown Soldier’s journey 100 years ago. Gavin McIlvenna, the Honor Guard society’s president, spoke about following the path of the man he guarded.
“While on this trip, I had the pleasure of learning about the noble mission and purpose of the Tomb Guards. As I talked to the Unknown Soldier Society, I was taught how the society actually works and how being in the society is an honor. ...This trip was a once in a lifetime experience that I will forever remember.” remarked Cdt/CPL Pierre-Jovan Fuentes, also from Vilseck.
Additionally, Pam Stemple, second vice president of American Gold Star Mothers and Denise VanBuren, President General of the Daughters of the American Revolution spoke about the importance and legacy of the Unknown Soldier.
After the formal events, cadets met American tomb guards who served from the 1950s all the way through to the present. The cadets learned about the significance of a collection of items displayed in a case that they carried on their pilgrimage: a U.S. flag they flew over the four WWI cemeteries, a piece of wood from the USS Olympia, marble shavings from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington and other treasures.
It was important for Cdt/CSM Collin Robertson from Ansbach, to meet those on the pilgrimage.
“I really enjoyed meeting multiple generations of sentinels that have guarded the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,” said Robertson. “It was humbling to see so many people that have dedicated their lives to the symbol of the unknown soldier.”
Special thanks goes to the Association of the United States Army for sponsoring the trip for the JROTC cadets and instructors.