To commemorate the Centennial of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in 2021, the Military Women’s Memorial partnered with the Society of the Honor Guard, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (The Society)

The History of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Exhibition is a continuation of that collaboration to educate and inform the public on the history of the Tomb and its everlasting importance to American heritage and culture.

The exhibit is of additional importance to the Military Women’s Memorial as it highlights the service of women Tomb Guards. The first woman Tomb Guard, Sgt. Heather Johnson, earned her identification badge in 1996. According to the Department of Defense, this was after “the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment began allowing women into its ranks in 1994, when a combat support unit that included women was attached to the Old Guard.” As of today, 7 women have served as Tomb Guards.


Through this exhibition, the Society and the Military Women’s Memorial provide an in-depth view into the history of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Through 26 paintings, visitors will have a more complete understanding of the profound admiration and respect the French military, government, and citizens gave so sincerely to the American allies and the American war dead.

The exhibition captures the iconic moments when our French Allies bestowed their highest honors upon the remains of America’s Unknown Soldier of World War I; from the town of Chalons-Sur-Marne to the port of Le Havre where the people of France offered their final farewell as the Unknown Soldier was carried onto the USS Olympia to begin his journey home.

The paintings also bring to life the lesser-known individuals that were pivotal in the origination of the Tomb: from the legislation written to select and “to bring home the body of an unknown American warrior who in himself represents no section, creed, or race in the late war and who typifies, moreover, the soul of America and the supreme sacrifice of her heroic dead,” to the construction of the iconic sarcophagus located in Arlington National Cemetery; to the evolution of the elite military unit that performs continuous military honors; and, the Tomb that provides a nation and its citizens a place to honor and memorialize its fallen.

The Honor Guard to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier opened its ranks to military men and women of all races and ethnicities and today boasts a membership that includes the stellar service of just over 600 servicemembers – of which 7 are women. Each one earned their rightful place among these elite soldiers who America has entrusted with the sacred duty to honor and protect its most sacred shrine.

A message from Dave Rappaport, exhibit artist

The impetus for the History of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Exhibit began in early 2020 with Artist Dave Rappaport’s painting of SSGT Ruth Hanks, an active-duty Tomb Guard from Jun 2015 – Sep 2017. His initial plan was to add this painting to The Changing Face of Courage Exhibit, currently on display at the Military Women’s Memorial. The thought was to have the painting unveiled as part of the Memorial’s many events in support of the Centennial of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

As the anniversary date approached, he wished to do more. The MWM and the Society agreed: There was indeed an interest in creating a series of paintings that would educate and inform the public on the history of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – it’s creation and the evolution to present day.

Over the next eight months, Mr. Rappaport repeatedly visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The resulting connection to the Tomb – including the measured and exacting steps of the guards, to the solemn reverence of each visitor and dignitary presenting flowers and wreaths, to the family members and friends that mourn the loss of their servicemember – provided him with the empathy and compassionate energy with which he painted the people and their role in the History of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Exhibit.

The exhibit is intended to help inform, educate, and remind us all, that this is where we honor, remember, and pay our respects to the millions of men and women who have fought and died for our liberty and freedom.  It is the place where America says “we will never forget you”. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier enables families, friends, communities, and brothers and sisters in arms to honor our missing in action or whose remains could not be identified. 

Dave Rappaport

Dave Rappaport is a self-taught New York painter and sculptor who worked for the Department of Defense and the Department of the Navy for 37 years. His earliest work was three dimensional, but in the mid 1980’s, he started working in two dimensions. His art took on a black-and-white character, not unlike the early photographers he studied, such as Ansel Adams and war photographer Matthew Brady. Unlike most of his contemporaries, Rappaport chose to reverse the color of the paper and drawing tools, using a hard white charcoal pencil, rather than the traditional black, creating his portraits and landscapes on black folio paper. In time, he experimented with charcoal, pastels, and colored paper, then eventually turned exclusively to watercolor. His recent work, almost entirely monochromatic, is concentrated in two distinct areas: Maine’s Mohegan Island, with its unique architecture and inimitable landscapes, and portraits of U.S. military servicemen and women. 

The derivative watercolor paintings in the History of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Exhibit, are created by using only a single color of paint, with the exception, the painting of the Tomb surrounded by flowers laid in commemoration of the Centennial.  All are monochromatic – created using only a single color of paint, Payne’s gray.  The different hues, tonal qualities found in the details of these paintings – alternating from almost white to almost black – are the result of applying various layers of wash on the paper. The white areas are simply the absence of paint – which characterizes Rappaport’s distinct and challenging style of painting.

The Military Women’s Memorial and the Society of the Honor Guard, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, along with Artist Dave Rappaport, hope you have a chance to enjoy the exhibition. It will be on display in France at the following locations and dates.

Châlons-en-Champagne Sept 1 – 11, 2023

Verdun Memorial Oct 1 – 8, 2023

Château of Castries Oct 10 – 30, 2023