The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Centennial Commemoration Lecture Series


By Allison S. Finkelstein, Ph.D., Senior Historian, Arlington National Cemetery

In the months after the 2021 centennial of the creation of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) has continued to make the programs created for this anniversary accessible to the public online. On May 30, 2022—Memorial Day—ANC released a major virtual project as part of this ongoing effort: the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Centennial Commemoration Lecture Series.

Bagpiper for the Wild Blue Yonder


By Kevin M. Hymel, ANC Contract Historian

On June 17, 2022, as Air Force Col. Charles McGee’s funeral at Arlington National Cemetery came to an end, the sound of bagpipes filled the air. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Adam Tianello, dressed in a unique uniform which included an Air Force tartan kilt, played “Amazing Grace” for the mourners, providing a poignant conclusion to the ceremony.

By the time Tianello, The U.S. Air Force Band’s only bagpiper, blew into his bagpipes to end the McGee funeral, he had already performed at about 1,575 funerals. He only plays for funerals for Air Force colonels and above (per U.S. Air Force regulation). “I will play any tune the family will want to hear,” said Tianello. Yet he does not play for the departed. “I play for the people that are there, to help them with the grieving process.”

Navy Spouse Funeral at the Columbarium


On July 28, 2022, the inurned remains of Helen Zmuda joined those of her husband, Robert Zmuda, in the Arlington National Cemetery columbarium. The couple had been married for more than fifty years when Robert passed away in 2012. Helen’s extended family attended the funeral and bade farewell to their matriarch.

WWII Veteran Killed in Burma Buried at ANC


By Kevin M. Hymel, ANC Contract Historian

Brothers Peter and Robert Esmay never knew their uncles Myles and Gardner Esmay, both of whom died in service to their country during World War II. Myles Esmay died fighting with the U.S. Army to capture the town of Myitkyina in Burma on June 7, 1944. Almost a year later, Gardner Esmay died aboard the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Bunker Hill when two suicide kamikaze aircraft struck on May 11, 1945. Their brother Irwin Esmay, who witnessed the attack on the Bunker Hill as a sailor on another ship, survived the war and returned home to father five children, two of whom were Peter and Robert.

Air Force Chaplain Retires After More Than 2,000 Funerals at ANC


By Kevin M. Hymel, ANC Contract Historian

On Monday, July 18, 2022, after conducting more than 2,000 funerals over an eight-year span at Arlington National Cemetery, Chaplain (Col.) John L. Elliott, Jr. performed his last funeral as a uniformed Air Force officer. As a Reserve officer, he supported more funerals than active-duty Air Force chaplains serving a two- or three-year tour.

Elliott has also used his yearly ten months of active duty to conduct funerals, when he was technically attached to the Air Force District of Washington and the Pentagon. With so much experience, the Air Force often gave him a heavy work load. He once performed fifteen funerals in one week.

USS Oklahoma Pharmacist’s Mate Buried at ANC


By: Kevin Hymel, ANC Contract Historian

Cheshire funeral

On November 9, 1941, 40-year-old James Thomas Cheshire, a chief pharmacist’s mate aboard the battleship USS Oklahoma, wrote a last letter to his son, but he did not know it. Less than a month later, the USS Oklahoma capsized after multiple Japanese torpedoes struck her hull, entrapping and killing 429 crewmen, including Cheshire.

Last Tuskegee Airmen Pilot Laid to Rest

By AMBER R VINCENT on 6/22/2022

By: Kevin Hymel, ANC Contract Historian

For a somber event, the funeral for Colonel Charles McGee, the last Tuskegee Airmen pilot, was surprisingly joyous. The Air Force band set the mood by playing “Ode to Joy” as they followed the caisson to the burial location in Section 3 of Arlington National Cemetery. Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Richard S. Beyea III kept up the theme by declaring to the gathered mourners, “We are celebrating an incredible life.” McGee had lived 102 years before passing away on January 16, 2022. He had been promoted to brigadier general after his retirement.

From Tomb100 to Flowers of Remembrance

By AMBER R VINCENT on 5/31/2022

By: Kevin Hymel, ANC Contract Historian

Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb sentinels, members of 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment, the Old Guard, will play a key role in the upcoming Flowers of Remembrance Day on May 28, when the public can lay flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. And the sentinels are ready. They already helped the public lay flowers for two days in early November 2021 for the Tomb Centennial.

Flags In 2022

By AMBER R VINCENT on 5/28/2022

By: Kevin Hymel, ANC Contract Historian

In the pre-dawn darkness of Thursday, May 26, uniformed members of the military spread out among the headstones of Arlington National Cemetery, their rucksacks filled with American flags. Quietly, they placed a boot against a headstone and pushed a flag into the ground at their heel. Then they moved onto the next headstone and repeated the process until a flag stood at the base of every headstone. The event, known as Flags-In had been a Memorial Day tradition since 1948.

Flowers of Remembrance Day: Inaugurating a New Tradition at Arlington National Cemetery

By AMBER R VINCENT on 5/20/2022

On Saturday May 28, 2022, Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) will be inaugurating a new tradition: Flowers of Remembrance Day. During this ceremony, the public will be afforded the rare opportunity to walk on the plaza in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and place a flower there to memorialize our nation’s military dead. In conceptualizing the idea for this ceremony, ANC drew from several historical precedents and the events of the recent Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Centennial Commemoration to create a new, modern tradition for Memorial Day weekend. Since the cemetery’s early years, honoring the war dead with flowers has been a consistent ritual at ANC. This new iteration through Flowers of Remembrance Day forms yet another step in the evolution of this tradition. To help the public understand this ceremony’s intent and symbolism, this blog article explains the rich historical context surrounding this new event and situates it within the 158-year legacy of mili ...