For many years, The Iowa American Legion held a parade at their State Convention honoring the district who was first in membership with floats, bands and members representing Boys’ and Girls’ State, baseball and other programs.
At the Department Convention 1993, the district membership under the leadership of Commander Virgil Mundt of Denver decided to have a permanent float built for the Third District in honor of The American Legion's 75th anniversary in 1994. Bob Heppe produced photos of the four sides of The Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington Cemetery, Washington D.C. and a decision was made to build a 3" l scale replica.
Carroll Wegner approached Darrell Paustian of Gladbrook to see if he would be willing to face this challenge. He accepted, found a write-up on the dimensions and using 2 inch lumber and plywood and a lot of religion, begin. Rick Voss carved the men and Darrell the wreaths out of basswood. Ed McGivern, Carroll Wegner and Dick Denbow served as 'gofers.' Dale Haack of Gladbrook painted the wood with gray and a darker gray to give a marbleized effect. The completed project weighed 460 pounds, was mounted on a carpeted 8-foot wide trailer, licensed and the 'Tomb of the Unknowns' made its first appearance in the Gladbrook Corn Carnival parade on July 8, 1994. The American Legion also served as Grand Marshalls in honor of their 75th anniversary that year. Later in July, the float made its debut in the Iowa Department Parade in Dubuque and then to Minneapolis for the National Parade to commemorate The American Legion's 75th.
Third District also took Ed McGivern's flatbed trailer float honoring each branch of service and war eras, as we braved a cold and rainy parade day.
Rick Voss and the Blairstown Color Guard were selected as caretakers with anyone wanting to use the 'float' in a parade, they could rent it for a $25 fee. A new 6-foot trailer was obtained and under Rick's watchful eye it was carpeted, lettered with 'They Sacrificed for God and Country.' 'The Tomb of the Unknowns.' A canvas cover was made and held in place with rope and metal strapping. The Tomb itself was sanded down by Paustian and a glaze applied and repainted by Haack in Gladbrook. Touch-ups have been done as needed. A storage area was built underneath for equipment and tools. The pick-up used to pull the float was often fitted to carry the 'Iowa Corn,' a favorite in the national parades.
Over the past years, the 'Tomb' has appeared in several national and department parades, most of Gladbrook's Corn Carnival parades and other celebrations across the district and state. In August 1997, the 'Tomb of the Unknowns' was honored on the floor of the Orlando Florida National Convention, where it was guarded by volunteer veterans. Ames 'Pure Heaven' Color Guard also received its 7th national award.
In 1998, at the Mid-Winter Convention, Commander Ivan Torkelson invited Judy Robb of Traer to do her rendition of '21 Steps' under dimmed lights with the 'Tomb' as a hushed audience listened. The float has appeared in the Iowa State Fair parade leading Iowa's veterans. When on display or in a parade, the 'Tomb' is always respectfully guarded and then covered when not in use.
The 'Tomb' still receives comments of 'what is it made of, it is so real', 'how can you get wood to look like marble', 'it's awesome', and 'we didn't know the Third District had a float. The float was featured in the national parades in 2017 at Reno, 2018 at Minneapolis and 2019 at Indianapolis as we promoted Nikki Paustian Clapp of Gladbrook who served as National Auxiliary President in 2019-2020. Shellsburg is now the caretaker, it is still available for a $25 fee and reservations may be made by calling Ed Shaeffer at 319-389-2682.