tv Reel America Unknown Soldier 1921 CSPAN November 10, 2018 5:00pm-5:31pm EST
we visit the american cemetery in northeastern france, the final resting place for over read 8:00 :00 p.m. eastern, the reader of president trump at the world war i ceremonies in paris. sunday, veterans day, on c-span and american history tv on c-span3. announcer: on november 11, 1921, an estimated 100,000 people gathered at arlington cemetery in virginia for a ceremony honoring the unknown soldier of world war i. the u.s. army signal corps created a silent film documenting the journey of the soldier's remains from france to the capitol rotunda and its procession to arlington through the streets of washington, d.c. up next, we will show you the entire 23-minute silent film with narration provided by two world war i historians. host: welcome to reel america on american history tv. 2017-2018 is the centennial of
america's involvement in world war i and there will be 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 have invited two world war i historians to help us narrate the action of the film. mitch yockelson and allison finklestein will be with us to look at the 23 minute film from 1921 on the arrival of the unknown soldier to america's shores. allison finklestein, as we start, before we see the film, who saw these kinds of films at the time they were made? were they made for the american public? allison: i think in many ways 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 record it for future generations. host: mitch yockelson, how was it preserved and how do people access it today? who is in charge of this kind of precious resource? mitchell: 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 sometime shortly after world war ii. and today, the archives, had the original cut, and then eventually they were duplicated. i'm happy to say now they've been digitized, cleaned up quite a bit, and they're available on the national archives youtube channel. host: overall, what is the volume? how many films like this were made? mitchell: wow. thousands and thousands of them made by almost every government agency around in world war i. primarily the u.s. army signal corps, but you also had the committee on public information
, which was predecessor to owi in world war ii. they were kind of like the propaganda arm of the federal government. every agency -- i think they were excited to have this new technology of motion picture, so they were kind of going crazy and making films. mike allison said, they were there probably more for dissemination by government officials and so forth and maybe they were chopped up a bit and shown in news reels and movie theaters, but i'm willing to bet a large part of the american public hasn't seen these before , so it is quite exciting that people will see this perhaps for the first time. host: with that background, let's roll the video -- the film, i should say, because that is the technology of the time -- on the film of the unknown soldier. now, where are we as this begins? mitchell: i'm pretty sure this would be in france, right, allison? allison: yes. mitchell: obviously the french train is coming in. you can see the french soldiers
there lined up as honor guard. host: allison finklestein, how did this whole concept of the unknown soldier being honored come about? allison: well, it really goes back 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 were really 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. so the u.s. decided to do something similar to that. the idea was started by representative hamilton fish of new york, who submitted legislation to bury an unknown soldier from the u.s. i believe they are in shalom s umar in france right now, where the unknown soldiers were taken from four different cemeteries.
i believe it was -- omme, i think? mitchell: i think you are right, the somme. i have walked through the streets before and it is interesting to see to me, you know, how many people turned out. not just the army, as we can see mostly in this scene, but french civilians showing their honor and patriotism toward the americans and really supporting the role the americans played in helping liberate france during this really difficult time. host: 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. 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? allison: they really wanted to make sure that this was not a soldier who would be identifiable. this was 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 selected a wounded world war i veteran, sergeant edward f. younger, to actually blindly figure out which one he was going to place the roses on. and then they reburied the three in the mus argonne american cemetery. host: just to be clear, there were four caskets in the room and he was to lay roses on the casket that he selected that would be the unknown soldier. allison: yes. white roses. host: now we are seeing the casket being carried onboard an american ship. mitchell: yes. olympic,hip, the uss which was famous during the spanish-american war. it was admiral dewey's flagship that captured manila in 1898 so it has got a storied history. host: how long would the voyage have taken from france to the united states? mitchell: i think it was a
little under two weeks. host: what was the preparation on the home shores for the arrival of this casket? allison: 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 circumstance, and they had elaborate ceremonies that were planned for washington, d.c., once the unknown soldier arrived. host: so as it was making its crossing at that point, was there anything special about this voyage for the soldiers onboard the ship? it wasn't regular cargo that they were carrying, so was there an honor guard that you know of along the way with the casket or is that a detail lost to history? mitchell: 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. i mean, 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, you know, 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 a way for the americans to kind of have some closure. host: there we actually see the disembarkation at the navy yard in washington, d.c. what are we looking at here? allison: 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. host: who was general pershing? allison: the commander of the american expeditionary forces in world war i which was the term used for the american army. here they're in the u.s. capitol rotunda. that is the lincoln platform , which was a platform that was used to put president lincoln's coffin. host: importantly, that is the president of the united states, warren harding, and mrs. harding
laying the ribbon across the casket. mitchell: that is correct. they are representing of course the united states and, ultimately, not to jump ahead to much, but he will give the keynote speech. mitchell: 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 it was one of the largest turnouts for any parade in the city. host: what does that say about the american public at that time? mitchell: 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 unknowns that they were difficult to identify once the repatriation occurred after the fighting. host: if you recognize any of the faces as they are coming across the screen, please let us know as we're talking here. mitchell: the gentleman in the foreground, that is charles h. brent. he was chief of chaplains for the aef, the american expeditionary forces. host: it is also interesting to look back in time on the widespread use of horses still. the automobile certainly coming into play, but not as -- not uniquely so at that time. mitchell: yeah. i mean, the army kind of went into the modern age of world war i using motorized, but i think the tradition of using horse drawn casket and obviously walking was something that, you know, they wanted to keep for this event.
host: here the casket is being carried down the steps of the united states capitol, a scene that modern americans will be familiar with with similar ceremonies 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. host: now, who was invited to
participate in this parade? it is really quite a long demonstration of support. allison: 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. host: and president harding once again. allison: yes. they felt it an honor to participate. members of congress, the supreme court, and i believe woodrow wilson, for a very brief moment. he was, of course, ill at the time. mitchell: we see the soldiers on course. the cavalry was also there from fort myer, and they were led by george s. patton. the main contingent of the army , which 13th engineers
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? host: explain who the gold star mothers are. allison: 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 the parade and also in the ceremony by laying wreaths at the tomb of the unknown soldier. host: 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's really quite a showing. mitchell: the u.s. navy has representation. host: every branch of the military was represented in the parade. mitchell: right. we didn't have an independent u.s. air force. they were part of the army, but . but it would have been the navy, marine corps -- the marine corps being part of the navy as well,
-- plus the army. host: there's obviously a reviewing stand in downtown washington, d.c. mitchell: right. it looks so much different. almost looks like a village in france. host: is that pennsylvania avenue, do we know? boy, it almost is unrecognizable to me what part of town that is. that's interesting. allison: it's important to know that the navy and the marine corps were there, because 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. host: 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. allison: i think one reason so many people came out to this parade and this ceremony was that they were really seeking 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 had someone who suffered an injury, whether physical or psychological. host: we also have to remember this was the age before any broadcasting, so if people wanted to experience an event they couldn't listen on the radio or watch on television, they came to see them. mitchell: you're absolutely right. newspapers covered events like this and the entire war quite well in day-to-day activities. host: i believe that's the president and the first lady? mitchell: i believe so, yes. host: they are also in a 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. mitchell: i imagine it was going way too slow with all of the traffic. one thing to point out is 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 it to the ceremony because the roads were so clogged getting across on 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. host: among those honoring the unknown soldier in addition to the president, and general pershing, as we mentioned earlier, members of congress came. allison: yes. host: the supreme court. allison: correct. host: and the diplomatic corps also were invited to attend this, along with many members of civic groups that helped support the war effort and the military. allison: 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. host: so interesting to look at the way people dressed. how different. mitchell: yes. they all look the same. allison: 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 is a little hard to tell. it's blurry. but as you can see, we have the representation of women -- mitchell: that or maybe salvation army? allison: they could be. some of the uniforms look very similar until you can see their insignia. host: what role did women play in world war i? allison: they played a really diverse and significant role. there were women enlisted in the navy and marine corps, the first american women to do so. they were called yeomen f or female marines. women were army nurses, navy nurses, and served in a wide variety of auxiliary organizations. they served doughnuts overseas for the troops with the
salvation army. they were called donut dollies. they were telephone operators for the signal corps, the hello girls. then you had women helping on the home front in so many different ways. host: make yockelson, during world war ii, we heard about rosie the riveter. where women involved in the actual creation of arms for world war i? mitchell: absolutely. just like one were to, -- just like world war ii, a lot of civilian factories were converted over into war-time machinery. the one thing to point out, though, is that 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 men normally would have had who were either enlisted or drafted into the service. host: ultimately, how many americans fought in world war i? mitchell: we had 4 million men and women in uniform.
roughly 2 million of those were overseas in theatres of war , mostly on the western front, but we also had troops in north russia and siberia, also in italy. out of that 2 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 disease like the flu or accidents, suicide, or other deaths, as they say. host: and there is also a dollar figure attached to the u.s. involvement in world war i? mitchell: i don't know the exact number. host: can i presume we are now on the grounds of arlington cemetery? what we are looking at now looks a bit more rural. allison: i think it could be. that area surrounding the cemetery has changed a lot since 1921, but this is probably somewhere either near the perimeter or back sort of on the way up to the hillside where the tomb of the unknown soldier is located. host: one thing if you visit
there today, every single hill is filled with white stones from soldiers from the various wars, and you can see vast amounts of ground that are yet uninterred. mitchell: right. among those who are buried there is general pershing, who has a simple soldier's headstone, which is what he wanted. next to him is his grandson richard, who died during the vietnam war. allison: i think right now they are walking up closer to the memorial amphitheater, which was constructed before the tomb of the unknown soldier and was where they had some of the ceremonies. that circular road reminds me of how it looks today. do you think so, mitch? mitchell: yeah. absolutely. as you point out, the ground without the lawn on there kind of throws us. host: 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, post world war ii? mitchell: world war ii. go ahead, allison.
and then for every other war -- allison: first the korean war, and then there was an interment from the vietnam war, but that soldier was actually identified as michael blassie from the u.s. air force. and at the request of his family , he was disinterred and reinterred at jefferson barracks national cemetery. host: that is important to note for our audience, that the days of the unknown soldier are behind us now because of dna identification. there is no really such thing as an unknown soldier anymore is that correct? mitchell: that is pretty much correct. with the technology that we have, it's a lot easier. one thing to point out about world war i is the first time that dog tags were issued to everyone, and there were two circular disks that included information on the soldier. the idea was if a soldier was killed and had to be buried, one of the tags was nailed to the temporary cross. the other was kept with the soldier, so that helped with
identification after the war. but the problem was the technology, the type of artillery that was 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. host: look at the number of wreaths laid at that amphitheater. and there is the president addressing the crowd. now, we will see there's a vast number of people in the official audience, but then the crowds of the public beyond it. allison: the acoustics of that amphitheater are very good, having been to some ceremonies
there. it is interesting because looking at it now, it is almost unchanged today from how it was in 1921. host: look at that crowd. allison: many of these wreaths were from different veterans organizations from across the country, from groups of women, people 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 that they were participating in some way. mitchell: i think some of them were sent from every army unit especially at the division level. allison: i believe that is a representative from, possibly, france. the unknown soldier received medals. from great britain, the victoria cross. from france. all of these different nations wanted to show their support for the american and participation in the first world war. host: so those are the laying on of the metals onto the bier holding the casket. allison: you can still see those
at arlington national cemetery. they have them in the collection. host: look at those crowds. and also look at washington, d.c., how undeveloped it is. you can see the washington memorial. wide open spaces. mitchell: folks that made it those are the over there. thousands more who couldn't make it because of the large turnout. allison: i also think it is interesting to note the people on the roof of the memorial amphitheater. some of the best photographs we have of the ceremony were taken from above. host: and also how unconcerned really they were about presidential security. allison: yes. host: today there just could not be people up on the roof like that. there would be snipers watching the crowds and protecting the president. mitchell: despite the fact that three presidents had been assassinated before this. host: right. now, they're carrying the casket to the place where today when people go, they will actually see the -- it is called a
sarcophagus? -- in which the casket is interred. allison: that was not constructed yet. it was not constructed until later. all we see now is the actual tomb, and where they are are walking is somewhat near where the plaza would later be constructed, where the sentinels from the united states army's third infantry regiment now guard the tomb. so this part of the plaza has changed quite a bit. host: and the congressman who started this all, hamilton fish, do we know if he had any role in the day when it finally happened? allison: yes, he definitely did. hamilton fish served in the first world war. the 369thofficer in infantry regiment, which was a segregated african-american resident, and he was a white officer. this was just to pause the chief representing native americans. hamilton fish really helped organize and orchestrate the
ceremony, and i believe he was there. mitchell: 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. allison: he also helped found the american legion. host: so his dedication to those who fought was consistent throughout his career. allison: yes. i believe that's frank witchey, who became very famous for being the bugler who played "taps" at this ceremony. and so that is where today you see the larger sarcophagus over that, which was not yet constructed at this moment. host: there are the final shots of arlington national cemetery,
much as we see it today with the many white headstones marking the graves the fallen. mitchell: the capital all lit up at night. allison: i think it is important to pause for a moment and think about the meaning the unknown soldier had at this time. it was about world war i, yes, but it was also 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 those who served in our nation's armed forces and that really continues very strongly until today. host: and at the time, they wouldn't know how history would unfold, but thought it was the war to end all wars. mitchell: they did, although i think a number of participants, including general pershing, recognized that the germans surrendered as an armistice, which isn't a true surrender. and i think that the fact that the war really didn't come to an absolute closure, that there would be something in the future. and i suspect the back of his mind he thought, ok, we are going to be probably fighting
this again. they didn't -- i don't think they knew it was going to happen some 20 years later. host: well, thanks to both of you in 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 here in the united states. thanks for your expertise. mitchell: thank you. allison: thank you. a century ago in october 1918, alvin york single-handedly killed 25 men and help capture over 130 german prisoners on the western front. he was awarded the medal of honor. 23 years later, warner bros. made a film starring gary cooper called sergeant york. tonight on american history tv, alvin york's grandson and a film historian talk about the man and the movie. here is a preview. >> colonel york, did you have a chance to talk to your grandfather about the portrayal by gary cooper and what he
thought of the film? >> we saw the film several times with him, because he had a copy of it. he didn't talk a lot about the movie. he was satisfied with the movie. there were a couple of parts in the movie that my grandmother had issues with. but my grandfather liked the movie. he actually went out to hollywood and spent a couple of weeks on the set when they were making it. he had some conditions when they first approached him about it, about what he wanted in the movie. first of all, he wanted it to be an accurate portrayal. he did not want to be hollywoodized, what he called. he also did not want a hollywood floozy playing his wife. he wanted it to kind of statednt and even
initially, he would have liked to have it about his life after world war i. when he came back from the war, he made several speeches to raise money for education in thatssee, and he found out just talking about education, people wanted to hear about his experiences. so i think that has something to do with him finally agreeing to go ahead and do the war portion of the movie, because he realized that that's what people wanted to see. announcer: watch the entire discussion on sergeant york, the man and the movie, tonight at 7:00 eastern here on american history tv, only on c-span3. announcer: this year marks the centennial of the end of world war i. next on american history tv, author and historian melvin urofsky describes some of the constitutional issues during the
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