VAnguard Magazine March/April 2005
A Facelift for the Tomb of the Unknowns
VA partners with the Army to replace the 73-year-old monument.
By Michael Nacincik

Last November, VA and the Department of the Army signed a joint agreement to replace the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. The main part of the Tomb, crafted from a 55-ton block of solid marble, has stood adjacent to the Memorial Amphitheater overlooking Washington, D.C., since 1932.

The 73-year-old monument is being replaced because of two large cracks that travel completely around the Tomb.

Because the Tomb of the Unknowns is considered a government headstone, the Army asked VA - through the National Cemetery Administration - to acquire an identical replacement. NCA will solicit, award, and fund the contracts to create the replacement Tomb, including procurement of the stone, sculpting the marble, and transporting the new Tomb to Arlington.

The original Tomb came from Yule Quarry in Colorado. It was designed by Lorimer Rich and sculpted by Thomas Hudson Jones.

The Tomb consists of sevenpieces of marble—the sub-base(four), base, die and cap. VA will re-place only the base, die and cap.The die is the main part that most people think of as the Tomb; it includes the north and south faces with wreaths, the west face with the words “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God,” and the east face with the three Greek figures representing Peace, Victory, and Valor.

Since the drawings used to create the original Tomb were lost, one of the first steps in the replacement process was to create a blueprint of the Tomb. The Army turned to Direct Dimensions Inc., of Maryland, to capture digital images of the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Using the latest technology, Direct Dimensions recorded the precise specifications of the Tomb. Rather than using video or photographs to create two-dimensional images, laser scanners were used to create an exact three-dimensional model. The scanning picked up barely visible marks and details that video and photographs don’t.

The three-dimensional model replaces the original blueprints. Not only will the information be used in contracting for the sculpting of the Tomb, it will also help with the actual sculpting. The three-dimensional model will be loaded into computer-assisted milling machines that use lasers to do the initial sculpting to within 1 inch of specifications. Then sculptors will complete the finished work by hand.

NCA estimates it will take 18 months before the replacement Tomb is ready for delivery to Arlington National Cemetery. The original Tomb will be donated to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.