Since 1921, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier monument at Arlington National Cemetery has been a tribute to American service members who died without their remains being identified.
In honor of the monument’s 100th anniversary, “A Call to Honor: The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Replica” traveling exhibit is touring the United States. The exhibit’s only stop in South Dakota will take place this month in Sioux Falls.
It will be on display from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 24 and July 25 at the South Dakota Military Heritage Alliance, 1600 W. Russell St. Admission is free.
Live music and guest speakers will be ongoing both days. The Singing Legionnaires will perform Saturday at 10:30 a.m., and the Sioux Falls Municipal Band will give a concert at 3 p.m. Sunday.
“The Tomb is one of the most iconic memorials in Arlington National Cemetery, paying tribute to perhaps the most sorrowful parts of war. It is a great honor for the South Dakota Military Heritage Alliance to help host the replica on its 100th anniversary. This is something few people from South Dakota are able to see until now,” said Brian Phelps, executive director of the South Dakota Military Heritage Alliance.
“A Call to Honor” is a half-scale exact replica of The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Visitors can learn more about the Tomb’s 100 years of history, the “unknowns” it honors, and the guards who stand vigil there 365 days a year, 24 hours a day in all kinds of weather.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a 79-ton white marble coffin. The replica is owned by the Exchange Club of Rome, Georgia. It was constructed by Phillip Burkhalter Builders from pine and sturdy, lightweight materials with retractable wheels. Artist Chuck Schmult of Rome painted the replica to resemble the Tomb.
For veterans such as Richard Means of Rapid City, having the chance to see a replica of the Tomb is a way to express gratitude and to teach younger generations about sacrifices that have been made for the United States.
Born and raised in South Dakota, Means served six years in the U.S. Army in Desert Shield and Desert Storm with the 101st Airborne Division. He’s visited Washington, D.C., but did not have a chance to see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“I always wanted to go,” he said. “If I did go, I would say a prayer in Lakota — for whom, I have no idea — but I’d know they were a warrior and I’d thank him for his service, for what he has done and is continuing to do (by being) remembered for his sacrifices.”
Those who visit the “A Call to Honor” exhibit will be sending messages of honor, respect, tribute and prayer to all veterans who have served, Means said. For him personally, those include his great-grandfather who never returned from World War I and many others in the Means’ family.
“My father was a Korean War veteran. My uncles were World War II veterans, and my aunts were World War II veterans, my sister is a Bosnia veteran, my brother is a retired lieutenant colonel,” said Means, whose Lakota name, Wambli Akicita, means eagle soldier.
“So many of us Natives from this land appreciate everyone that has stepped up … to the men and women that have done their rightful stance for this nation that we share,” he said. “Natives have been in many wars from the Indian Wars all the way through every major conflict. (We’ve served) with the Caucasians, Blacks, Hispanics. … We’re still called upon to come help.”
“It really comes down to all the families and relatives and children, to understand that over the many years so many sacrifices (were made) and so many families have been devastated from the (loss of) loved ones that served during those times,” Means said.
Means said he also hopes veterans who visit the "A Call to Honor" exhibit might find some healing.
“A Call to Honor” will be a highlight during a Midwest Honor Flight dinner on July 24, at the South Dakota Military Heritage Alliance. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., with dinner buffet and a program at 7 p.m. Guests can enjoy live music by A.G. Jamboree, a silent auction and special access to view “A Call to Honor.” Tickets are $30 and can be purchased at southdakotaalliance.org.
The Honor Flight Network brings World War II, Korean and Vietnam veterans from all over the United States to Washington, D.C., to visit monuments built in their honor.
“A Call to Honor: The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier” exhibit’s stop in South Dakota is sponsored by the Mary Chilton Chapter, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, of Sioux Falls; South Dakota Society Daughters of the American Revolution; the Mary Chilton Foundation; South Dakota Military Heritage Alliance; and Midwest Honor Flight.
The Daughters of the American Revolution is a nonprofit organization for women 18 and older — of any race, religion or ethnic background — who are directly descended from someone involved in the United States’ efforts toward independence. DAR’s mission is to promote history, education and patriotism.