tv Unknown Soldier CSPAN December 26, 2016 10:30pm-11:01pm EST
you're watching american history tv, covering history c-span style with tours of museums, archival film, eyewitness accounts, and discussions with authors, historians, and teachers. you can watch us on c-span3 every weekend, during congressional breaks, and on holidays too. for more information, visit our website at c-span.org/history. join us on tuesday,january 3rd for live coverage of the opening day of the new congress. watch the official swearing in of the new and reelected members of the house and senate, and the election of the speaker of the house. our all day live coverage of the events from capitol hill begins at 7:00 a.m. eastern on c-span and c-span.org or listen to it on the free c-span radio app. on november 11th, 1921, an
estimated 100,000 people gathered at arlington cemetery in virginia for ceremony honoring the unknown soldier of world war i. a silent film documenting the journey of the soldiers remains from france to the capital rotunda and its procession through the streets of the capital of washington, d.c. up next we'll show you the entire 23-minute silent film with narration provided by two world war i historians. >> welcome to real american on american history tv. 2017-2018 is the centennial of america's involvement in world war i. and there will be undoubtedly lots of discussion about the impact of that war on the world and on american society. as part of that conversation, we are going to show you some vintage films from that era that document america's participation. and to help us understand this, because these are silent films, we've invited two world war i historians to help us narrate the action of the film. mitch yochelson and allison
finklestein will be with us to look at a 23-minute film on the arrival of the unknown soldier to america's shores. allison finklestein, as we start here, before we actually see the film, who saw these kinds of films at the time that they were made? were they made for the american public? >> i think in many ways that the films were made to document the events for historians, for the military, for people who were involved with them. they might have been shown on news reels. but this was a really important moment in the commemorative culture that was developing in the u.s. after world war i. so they wanted to capture it on film and to record it for future generations. >> mitch yockelson, how was it preserved and how do people access today? who is in charge of this kind of precious resource? >> well, these are u.s. government films that were in some warehouse probably here in washington, d.c. and survived many years. and then eventually were transferred to the national
archives, probably some time shortly after world war ii. and the archives had the original cut. and then eventually they were duplicated. and i'm happy to say now they've been digitized, cleaned up quite a bit and are available on the national archives youtube channel. >> overall, what is the volume? how many films like this were made? >> wow, there are thousands and thousands of them. made by almost every government agency around world war i. the committee on public information pretty sayser to owi in world war ii. every agency, i think they were excited to have this new technology of motion picture. and so they were kind of going crazy making films. and i think like allison said, they were there probably more for dissemination of -- by government officials and so forth. and maybe they were chopped up a
bit and shown at news reels and theaters. but i'm willing to bet a large part of the american public hasn't seen these before. so it's quite exciting that i'm will see this perhaps for the first time. >> well, that background, let's roll the video, the film, i should say. because that's the technology of the time on the unknown soldier. where are we as this begins? >> i'm pretty sure this would be in france, right, allison? >> yes. >> i would say the french train is coming in. you can see the french soldiers there lined up as honor guard. >> allison finklestein, how did this whole concept of the unknown soldier being honored come about? >> well, it really goes become to the beginning of the mechanization of warfare that you see expand during world war i. you get a lot more unidentifiable remains. of course you had a lot in the civil war. but people really were struggling with the fact that they could not figure out who
many of these casualties were. so great britain and france in 1920 buried an unknown soldier in each of their countries. in great britain it was in westminster abbey. and in france it was under the arc de triomphe in paris. the u.s. decided to do something similar. the idea was started by representative hamilton fish of new york who submitted legislation to bury an unknown soldier in the u.s. i believe they're in france right now where the unknown soldiers were taken from four different cemeteries. i believe it was san miguel, ainmar and the somme? >> yes. i believe it was the somme. i've walked through the streets before. it's interesting to see to me how many people turned out, the french civilians, not just the army as we see mostly in this scene. but french civilians showing their honor and patriotism
towards the americans and really supporting the role the americans played in helping liberate france during this really difficult time. >> so the french populace had a real understanding and appreciation for the role the american soldiers played. and this was their opportunity to pay honor to that. now if we could spend just a moment, it was really interesting that they brought the four soldiers in. and there was a very elaborate process so that the ultimate selection of the one who would be the unknown soldier was really democratic and kept secret. why did they go to that length? >> well, they really wanted to make sure this was not a soldier who would be identifiable. and that is a problem that later came up if we want to talk about it at a later point in the program with the vietnam war unknown. so they chose four. and they selected a wounded world war i veteran, sergeant unger to blindly figure out which one he was going to place the roses on.
and they reburied the free in the mus argon american cemetery. >> there were four caskets in the room. and he was to lay roses on the casket that he selected to be the unknown soldier. >> yes, white roy, and now we see the casket being carried on board a u.s. ship? >> yes, a ship famous during the american spanish war. so it has a storied history. >> and how long would the voyage have taken from france to the united states? >> i think it was a little under two weeks. >> and what was the preparation on the home shores for the arrival of this casket? >> there were a lot of preparations. first, when the olympia pulled into the washington navy yard, it did so with a lot of pomp and circumstances. they had a lot of ceremonies once the unknown soldier arrived. >> so it was making its crossing at that point.
was there anything special about the crossing for the soldiers on board the ship? it wasn't regular cargo that they were carrying. was there an honor guard that you know of along the way with the casket, or is that a detail lost to history? >> no, it was an honor guard that would have been selected specifically for this voyage. and you can just look and see, you know, in the film. it would have been an absolute tribute just like the honor guards that are at the tomb today. you were selected for certain reasons. and this was a huge event in u.s. history. it was a way i think to kind of wrap up the war in the sense of it had been a few years since the armistice. and the discovery of the bodies and still trying to figure out the burials. but i think this is the way for the americans to kind of have some closure. >> there we actually see the disembarkation at the navy yard in washington, d.c.
what are we looking at here? >> we are looking at the casket being taken down. and you can see the honor guard there. we had a glimpse of general pershing just a moment ago i believe on board the ship. >> and who is general pershing? >> he was the commander of the american expeditionary forces in world war i which was the term used for american army. now here in the u.s. capital rotunda. that was the lincoln catafalque used for lincoln. >> and that is president harding and mrs. harding laying the ribbon across the casket. >> and not to jump ahead too much, but he will give the keynote speech.
>> the streets of washington were lined with thousands of folks who waited for the casket to be removed and brought by the honor guard down pennsylvania avenue. and then across the bridge into virginia. and i think what i've read is one of the largest turnouts for any parade in the city. >> and what does that say about the american public at that time? >> well, it says a lot that the american sacrifice was important. that the americans played a significant role during the war, and that we lost a tremendous amount of casualties. and the fact that because of the type of warfare, there were so many unknown that they were difficult to identify once the repatriation occurred after the fighting. >> if you recognize any of the faces as they're coming across the screen, please let us know as we're talking here. >> the gentleman in the foreground, that is charles h.
brent. he was chief of chaplains for the aef, the american expeditionary force. >> it's also interesting to look back on the widespread use of horses still. >> yes. >> the automobile certainly coming into play. but not uniquely so at that time. >> yeah. i mean, well, the army kind of went into the modern age in world war i using motorized. but i think the tradition of using horse drawn casket and obviously walking was snag they wanted to keep for this event. >> now here the casket is being carried down the steps of the united states capitol. that's a scene that many americans will be familiar with scenes in our time. and put on the horse-drawn bier that will make its way through the streets of washington and over to arlington cemetery. let's watch for just a minute.
>> now, who was invited to participate in this parade? it's really quite a long demonstration of support. >> there is a really interesting diverse group of people that participated in the parade. as you can see, there were military groups. they formed a very prominent part of those participating. but also you had a lot of veterans. you had female veterans as well, women who served or volunteered during the war. and i'm not sure how much the footage shows those, but a lot
of these different groups of people, general pershing right there. >> and president harding once again. >> yes. they felt it an honor to participate. it was very much a populist sort of thing. members of congress, the supreme court. and i believe woodrow wilson for a very brief moment. he was of course ill at the time. >> we see the soldiers on horse, the cavalry was also there from ft. myer. and they were let by george s. patton. the main contingent of the army was the 13th engineers which was also based out of the washington, d.c. area. one of the other groups that was there were the gold star mothers. i think, allison, what was their role? >> explain who the gold star mothers are. >> right. so the gold star mothers were women who lost a child during world war i. they wore a gold star to represent that loss, and they participated both in this part of this parade and also in the ceremony by laying wreaths at the tomb of the unknown soldier. >> and there we see some of the
weaponry used in the war being part of the parade honoring the world war i unknown soldier. look at those divisions of soldiers. there is really quite a showing. >> the u.s. navy and their representation. >> so every branch of the military was represented in the parade? >> right. we didn't have an independent u.s. air force. they were part of the army. but it would have been the navy, the marine corps and the marine corps being part of the navy as well, plus the army. >> and there is obviously a reviewing stand in downtown washington, d.c. >> right. it looks so much different. it almost looks like a village in france. >> it is -- is that pennsylvania avenue, do we know? boy, it's unrecognizable to me what part of town that is. that's interesting. >> and it's important to note that the navy and the marine corps were there. even though it's called the tomb of the unknown soldier, the term "soldier" was meant to represent every member of the military, not just those in the united states army.
>> and the parade continues in downtown washington from the u.s. capitol. and there is the casket of the chosen unknown soldier representing fallen in world war i. >> i think one reason so many people came out to this parade and this ceremony is they were really seaboarding a sense of closure from the world war. they were trying to find some meaning in the senseless losses. and especially working through the grief that many of these families suffered from. both those who lost someone and those who suffer adger, whether physical or psychological. >> we also have to remember this was the age before any broadcasting. so if people wanted to experience events, they couldn't listen on the radio or watch on the television. they came to see them. >> you're absolutely right. newspapers covered events like
this and the entire war quite well, daily day to day activities. >> and i believe that's the president and the first lady? >> i believe so, yes. >> and they are also in horse-drawn carriage. i understand that they made a stop at the white house where the president could switch into an automobile for the final part of the trip. >> yeah. i imagine it was going way too slow with all of the traffic. and one thing to point out is the washington police who were in charge of controlling the traffic. there were too few of them. i read an article in "the washington post" the day after complaining about so many people didn't make to it the ceremony because the roads were so clogged getting across the potomac river that many of them came back the next day and the day after just because they couldn't make it that day. >> among those honoring the unknown soldier, in addition to the president and general pershing, as we mentioned earlier, members of congress came? >> yes. >> the supreme court. >> correct.
>> and the diplomatic corps were also invited to attend this, along with many members of civic groups that help support the war effort and the military. >> there were also a lot of representatives from the allied nations as well. they really wanted to show their support for the american unknown soldier, and continue the bonds of friendship that were created during the first world war. >> so interesting to look at the way people dressed in this time frame, how different. >> they all look the same. >> and here you can see the american war mothers, which was a group of mothers that banded together during the war to support the military because their children were serving. and after the war, they did a lot of community service in support of veterans. and i believe those women are from the army nurse corps. it's a little hard to tell.
it's blurry. but we have the representation of women. >> or maybe salvation army? >> they could be. some of the uniforms look very similar until you can see their insignia. >> what role did women play in the war effort in world war i? >> they played a really diverse and significant role. there were women who were actually enlisted in the navy and marine corps, the first american women to be so. they were called yeoman f or female marines. women were army nurses. they were navy nurses. they also served in a wide variety of auxiliary organizations. they served donuts to the troops overseas with the salvation army. they were called donut doll liss. they were signal operators, the hello girls. and women helping on the home front in so many different ways. >> during world war ii, we heard about rosy the riveter. were women involved in the creation of arms for world war i? >> absolutely. just like world war ii, a lot of civilian factories were
converted over into wartime machinery. the one thing to point out, though, we relied so heavily when it came to technology for tanks and artillery in many cases and armaments for the allies that we were really slow in producing. but a lot of factories were turned over. and yes, women took over the roles that men would have normally had, either enlisted or were drafted into the service. >> ultimately, how many americans fought in world war i? >> we had four million men and women in uniform. roughly two million of those were overseas in theaters of war. mostly in the western front, but we also had troops in north russia, and siberia. and italy. out of that two million who were actually in war zones, about 100,000 died. about half of that, 50,000 were from combat deaths. the other 50,000 were from the disease like the flu or
accident, suicide, or other deaths, as they say. >> and also a dollar figure attached to the u.s. involvement in world war with the grounds of arlington cemetery, what we're looking at now looks a bit more rural. >> it could be that area surrounding the ceremony changed a lot since 1921 but probably somewhere near the perimeter or back sort of on the way up to the hillside where the tomb of the unknown soldier is located. >> one thing if you visit there today, every single hill is filled with white stones from soldiers from the various wars. you can see vast amounts of ground that are yet uninterred. >> right. among those who are buried there is general pershing, who has a simple soldier's headstone which is what he wanted. and next to him is his grandson richard who died in the vietnam war.
>> i think right now they are walking up closer to the memorial amphitheater, which was constructed before the tomb of the unknown soldier and had some of the ceremonies. that circular road reminds me of how it looks today. do you think so, mitch? >> absolutely. as you point out the ground without the lawn there kind of throws us. >> the amphitheater is well familiar to modern americans because the president goes every year on veterans day in a ceremony and lays wreaths at the tomb of the unknown soldier. there are now how many, world war i plus world war ii. >> world war ii. >> korean war. there was an internment from the vietnam war but that soldier was actually identified as michael blassie from the u.s. air force. at the request of his family he was disinterred and reinterred at arlington ceremony. >> that's important to know. the days of the unknown soldier are behind us because of dna
identification. there's no such thing as unknown soldier, is that correct? >> that's pretty much correct. with the technology we have, it's a lot easier. one thing to point out about world war i, the first time dog tags were issued to everyone, and there were two disks that included information about the soldier. the idea was, if the soldier was killed and needed to be buried, one was nailed to the coffin and the other kept with the soldier. that helped with identification after the war. but the problem was the technology, type of artillery used in some cases made soldiers unidentifiable, even though the registration service went to
great lengths to try and figure out the identities. of course in this case they couldn't figure it out. >> look at the number of wreaths at that amphitheater. there's the president addressing the crowds. we can see a vast number of people in the official audience and the crowd of the public beyond it. >> the acoustics of the theatre are very good, having been to some ceremonies there. looking at it now, it's almost unchanged today from how it was in 1921. >> look at that crowd. >> many of these wreaths were from different veterans organizations across the country, from groups of women who supported the war effort. people who couldn't get to the ceremony. this was such a big deal that americans really wanted to feel they were participating in some way. >> i think some were sent from every army unit, especially at the division level.
>> i believe that is the representative from possibly france. the unknown soldier received medals from great britain, victoria cross, from france, the croix de guerre. all of these different nations wanted to show their support for the american in the participation for the first world war. >> those are the laying on of the medals, holding the casket. >> yes. you can see many of those at arlington cemetery still in the collection. >> look at those crowds. also look at washington, d.c., how undeveloped it is. >> you can see the lincoln memorial. >> that's right. >> wide open spaces. >> and with all the folks who made it over there, there were thousands more who couldn't make it because of the large turnout. >> i think it's interesting to note people on the roof of the theater, some of the best
photographs we have of the ceremony were taken from above. >> and also how unconcerned, really, they were about presidential security. today there just couldn't be people up on the roofs like that. there would be snipers in the crowds protecting the president. >> despite the fact three presidents had been assassinated before this. >> right. they are carrying the casket to the place where today people go they will actually see the white -- is it called a sarcophagus in which the casket is interred? >> yes. and that was not constructed yet. all we see now is the actual tomb. where they are walking is somewhat near where the plaza would later be constructed where the sentinels from the united states army third regiment now guard the tomb. this part of the plaza has changed quite a bit.
>> the congressman who started this all, hamilton fish, do we know if he had any role in the day when it finally happened? >> he definitely did. hamilton fish served in the first world war. he was an officer in the 369th infantry regiment, segregated african-american regiment, and he was a white officer. just to pause, that's a chief representing native americans. hamilton fish helped organize and orchestrate the ceremony. i believe he was there. >> he was a very influential member of congress and especially when it came to the national guard, which was about a third of the american fighting forces overseas. >> he also helped to found the american legion. >> so his dedication to those who fought was consistent throughout his career. >> yes. i believe that's frank witchie, who
became famous playing "taps" at the ceremony. so that is where today you see the larger sarcophagus over that, which was not yet constructed at this moment. >> and there the final shot of arlington national cemetery much as we see it today with many whitehead stones marking the graves of the fallen. >> the capitol lit up at night. >> i think it's important to pause for a moment and think about the meaning that the unknown soldier had at this time. it was about world war i, yes, but thought to be a memorial that could connect all of the different american conflicts that can stretch beyond world war i and really honor all of those who served in our nation's armed forces. that really continues very strongly until today.
>> and at the time they wouldn't know how history would unfold but they thought it was the war to end all wars. >> they did. although i think a number of participants including general pershing recognized that the germans surrendered as armistice which isn't a true surrender. i think the fact the war really didn't come to an absolute closure, that there would be something in the future. i suspect in the back of his mind he thought we're going to be fighting this again. i don't think they knew it was going to happen some 20 years later. >> thanks to both of you and helping us see through the lens of history, a ceremony that helped millions of americans put world war i to closure after many tumultuous years in the united states. thanks for your expertise. >> thank you. >> thank you. this week on c-span in prime time, tuesday night at 8:00,
president barack obama and japanese prime minister visit pearl harbor, the site of the attack that launched u.s. involvement in world war ii. wednesday night beginning at 8:00, a review of house and senate hearings in 2016, on topics including the flint, michigan water crisis and the wells fargo unauthorized account scandal. >> seriously? you found out one of your divisions had created millions of fake accounts, had fired thousands of employees for improper behavior, and had cheated thousands of your own customers, and you didn't even once consider firing her ahead of her retirement? >> thursday at 8:00 p.m. eastern, we remember some of the political figures that passed away in 2016, including former first lady nancy reagan and supreme court justice antonin
scalia. and friday night at 8:00, shimon peres, muhammad ali, and former senator and astro not john glenn, this week in prime time on c-span. join us on tuesday, january 3rd, for live coverage of the opening day of the new congress. watch the official swearing in of the new and reelected members of the house and senate. and the election of the speaker of the house. our all day live coverage of the day's events from capitol hill begins at 7:00 a. a.m:00 a.m. e c-span and c-span.org or listen for free on the c-span radio app. next from the library of congress, we talk with three caretakers of america's treasures. david skorton, carla hayden,