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History

A.B.M.C. Cemeteries

American Battle Monument Commission

A.B.M.C. History

Recognizing the need for a federal agency to be responsible for honoring American Armed Forces where they have served and for controlling the construction of military monuments and markers on foreign soil by others, Congress enacted legislation in 1923 establishing the American Battle Monuments Commission.

      In performing its functions, the Commission administers, operates and maintains on foreign soil twenty-four permanent American burial grounds, twenty-seven separate memorials, monuments and markers.  There are five memorials in the United States with one (The World War II Memorial) planned.  Presently there are 124,913 American War Dead interred in these cemeteries, of which 30,921 are from World War I, 93,242 are from World War II and 750 from the Mexican War.  Additionally, 5,857 American veterans and others are interred at the Mexico City National Cemetery and the Corozal American Cemetery. Commemorated individually by name on stone tablets are 94,120 American servicemen and women who were Missing in Action or buried at sea in their regions during the World Wars and the Korean and Vietnam Wars.  In addition, the names of 37,275 Americans who lost their lives during the Korean War and in the Demilitarized Zone after the war are located in a computer database at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington DC.

      Final disposition of World War I and World War II remains was carried out under the provisions of Public Law 389, 66th Congress and Public Law 368, 80th Congress, respectively. These laws entitled the next of kin to select permanent internment of a loved one's remains in an American military cemetery on foreign soil which is designed, constructed and maintained specifically to honor in perpetuity the Dead of those wars, or to repatriate the loved ones remains to the United States for internment in a National or private cemetery.

      The programs for final disposition of remains were carried out by the War Department's American Graves Registration Service under the Quartermaster General.  From time to time, requests are received from relatives asking that the instructions of the next of kin at the time of internment be disregarded.  Those making such request are informed that the decision made by the next of kin at the time of internment is final.  Often, on seeing the great beauty and immaculate care of the Commission's cemetery memorials, these same individuals tell us later that they are now pleased that the remains of their loved ones have been interred in these shrines.

The Commission's World War I commemorative program consisted of four major engineering programs:

  • erecting a nonsectarian chapel in each of the eight burial grounds on foreign soil that were established by the War Department for the Dead of that war;

  • landscaping each of the cemeteries;

  • erecting eleven separate monuments and two tablets elsewhere in Europe and;

  • constructing the Allied Expeditionary Forces Memorial in Washington, DC.

      In 1934, a Presidential Executive Order transferred the eight World War I cemeteries to the Commission and made it responsible for the design, construction, operation and maintenance of future permanent American military burial grounds located in foreign countries.

      By the end of World War II, several hundred temporary burial grounds had been established by the U.S. Army on battlefields around the world.  In 1947, fourteen sites in foreign countries were selected to become permanent burial sites by the Secretary of the Army and the American Battle Monuments Commission.  The location of these sites correspond closely with the course of military operations.  These permanent sites were turned over to the Commission after the interments had been made by the American Graves Registration Service in the configuration proposed by the cemetery architect and approved by the Commission.  After the war, all temporary cemeteries were disestablished by the War Department and the remains were disposed of in accordance with the directions of the next of kin.  In a few instances, the next of kin directed that isolated burials be left undisturbed.  When doing so, the next of kin assumed complete responsibility for the care of the grave.

      Like World War I cemeteries, the use of the World War II sites as permanent military burial grounds was granted in perpetuity by each host country free of charge or taxation.  Except in the Philippines, burial in these cemeteries is limited by agreements with the host country to members of the U.S. Armed Forces who died overseas during the war.  American civilian technicians, Red Cross workers and entertainers serving the military were treated as members of the Armed Forces in so far as burial entitlement was concerned.  The agreement with the Republic of the Philippines permitted members of the Philippine Scouts and the Philippine Army Units which fought with the U.S. Armed Forces in the Philippines to be interred in the Manila American Cemetery.  All of the Commission's World War I and World War II cemeteries are closed to burials except for remains of American War Dead still found from time to time in the battle areas.  This policy is dictated by agreements with the host countries concerned.

The Commission's World War II commemorative program consisted of:

  • constructing fourteen permanent American military cemeteries on foreign soil;

  • constructing several monuments on foreign soil and;

  • constructing four memorial in the United States.

      In addition to their landscaped graves area and nonsectarian chapels, the World War II cemeteries contain sculpture, a museum area with battle maps and narratives, depicting the course of the war in the region, and a visitors reception area.

Color Photograph of Star of David Headstone.Color Photograph of a headstone in Shape of a Cross.      Each grave site in the permanent American World War I and II cemeteries on foreign soil is marked by a headstone of pristine white marble.  Headstones of those of the Jewish faith are tapered marble shafts surmounted by a star of David. Stylized marble Latin crosses mark all others. Annotated on the headstones of the World War I servicemen who could not be identified is: "HERE REST IN HONORED GLORY AN AMERICAN SOLDIER KNOWN BUT TO GOD." Because of the tri-service nature of World War II, the words "AMERICAN SOLDIER" were changed to "COMRADE IN ARMS" on the headstone of the unidentified of World War II.

      The policy making body of the Commission consists of eleven commissioners who are appointed by the President of the United States for an indefinite term and serve without compensation.   They meet with the professional staff of the Commission once or twice annually. The Commission has 363 full time civilian employees and five active duty military officers whose pay is reimbursed to the Department of Defense.  Fifty-four full time civilian employees are U.S. citizens.   All but sixteen of them are cemetery superintendents or assistant superintendents.   The remaining civilian employees are foreign nationals from the countries where the Commission installations are located.   There are two regional offices that oversee operations in Europe and the Mediterranean, one in Paris, France and one in Rome, Italy.   The superintendents of the Mexico City, Corozal, and Manila cemeteries report directly to the Washington Office.   Superintendents and their assistants are selected for their administrative ability; knowledge of horticulture; knowledge of vehicle, equipment and structural maintenance; knowledge of construction; and their ability to show compassion and tact when dealing with the public.

      General John J. Pershing was appointed to the newly-formed Commission by President Warren G. Harding and was elected chairman by the other members.  He served as chairman until his death in 1948, at which time he was succeeded by General George C. Marshall.  Following General Marshall's death in 1959, General Jacob L. Devers became chairman.  He was succeeded by General Mark W. Clark in 1969.  General Clark died in 1984 and General Andrew J. Goodpaster was elected the following year.  General P. X. Kelley succeeded General Goodpaster in 1991.  General Frederick F. Woerner became chairman in 1994.  General P. X. Kelley succeeded General Woerner when President George W. Bush appointed the new Commission in August 2001.

 

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