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General Mark Hersey and Captain Hamilton Fish, photograph by George Grantham Bain, ca. 1917

Captain Hamilton Fish (right) was elected to Congress in 1920 from New York and introduced the resolution to create an Unknown Solider memorial. Fish served as an officer in the 369th Infantry Regiment, nicknamed the “Harlem Hellfighters.” They spent more days on the front lines than any other regiment and were the first Allied regiment to reach the Rhine River.

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

General Mark Hersey and Captain Hamilton Fish

Honoring America’s Unknown Soldiers

After World War I, Congress wished to honor the more than 116,000 American soldiers who lost their lives in the war. Most were buried overseas, and hundreds remained unidentified or missing. Letters from the public begging for the return of loved ones’ remains and widespread news coverage of the French and British Unknown Soldier burials established after the war prompted Congress to pass a resolution in 1921 to develop an Unknown Soldier memorial in the United States.

I . . . had first-hand knowledge of the brave sacrifices made by American forces during the First World War, and I wanted America, as a beacon of freedom and democracy, to have her own memorial to honor the Unknown Soldier.

Representative Hamilton Fish of New York, Hamilton Fish: Memoir of an American Patriot, 1991