History Book

NICK EICHER, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in It: the WORLD Radio History Book.

It’s Memorial Day, and so today we will tell you about two unknown soldiers laid to rest at Arlington Cemetery on a Memorial Day 60 years ago.

Plus, Russia and the United States begin limiting some nuclear weapons.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: But first, a beekeeper from New Zealand and a sherpa from Nepal reach the top of the world’s tallest mountain. Here’s Paul Butler.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: On May 29th, 1953, 33-year old Edmund Hillary and 39-year old Tenzing Norgay become the first people to reach the summit of Mount Everest. The two climbers were part of a 400 member expedition led by John Hunt. It was the 9th British attempt to scale the mountain.

The base camp was less than a vertical mile from the top. On May 26th, two other members of the team came within 300 feet of the summit, but had to turn back due to faulty oxygen tanks.

So Hunt sent Hillary and Norgay to try. They set up the last camp about 1,200 feet below the summit. On the morning of the 29th, Hillary spent two hours thawing his frozen boots before they could begin. By late morning they were within 200 feet of the top, but a seemingly impassable 40-foot rock face stood between them and their goal. Later, Sir Edmund Hillary explained how they made it:       

HILLARY: Then I noticed, out to the right of the rock step, where the ice was plastered onto the wall, there was a crack, just large enough to crawl inside where the ice was breaking away from the rock. And I sort of crawled inside that and I wriggled and jammed my way up the crack and finally pulled myself out on top of the rock step…

Hillary went on to climb 10 other Himalayan peaks, visited both the north and south poles, and led an expedition up the Ganges River to its source. He never attempted to rescale Mt. Everest, but his son Peter did it twice.

Next, May 30th, 1958, Memorial Day 60 years ago:

NEWSREEL: Escorted by 1,500 military men, and observed by 10’s of thousands of onlookers, two war-heroes move slowly to their grave. The unknowns of World War II and Korea are brought from the Capitol building in Washington to Arlington National Cemetery.

Audio from Unknown but Not Unsung, a 1958 British Newsreel.

Remains of the first unknown soldier were laid to rest at the site in 1921. Now, more than 36 years later, two more join him.

President Eisenhower confers the nation’s highest honor upon the two unidentified soldiers:

EISENHOWER: I now present medals of honor to these two unknowns, who gave their lives for the United States of America…

A fourth body is eventually added in 19-84, this time from the Vietnam conflict.


For more than 80 years, the tomb of the unknown soldier has been guarded by members of the 3rd Army Infantry Regiment. The sentinels patrol the tomb 24 hours a day, seven days a week—regardless of weather conditions.

And finally, June 1st, 1988. After ratification by the U.S. Senate, The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty comes into effect.

Negotiations had begun between the Soviet Union and the United States as early as 1980, but the two countries walked away from the bargaining table after three years of talks. In 1985, Margaret Thatcher brokered a deal that got both sides back together. And by December, 1987, both countries agreed to reduce nuclear arms.

At the signing ceremony, Reagan compared the treaty with previous attempts:

REAGAN: Unlike treaties in the past, it didn’t simply codify the status quo or a new arms build up, it didn’t simply talk of controlling an arms race; for the first time in history the language of arms control was replaced by arms reduction.

Mikhail Gorbachev added that future generations would celebrate the day:

The INF Treaty eliminated all land-based nuclear and conventional missiles with strike ranges between 300 and 3,400 miles. By June, 1991, the U-S had destroyed 846 missiles and Russia more than 1,800.

Over the last 20 years, both countries have accused the other of breaking the INF Treaty, though neither has withdraw from it.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Paul Butler.

(Photo/Steve Brockett)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

Like this story?

To hear a lot more like it, subscribe to The World and Everything in It via iTunes, Overcast, Stitcher, or Pocket Casts.







Pocket Casts

(Requires a fee)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.