The American Battle Monuments Commission
The American Battle Monuments Commission was established by an act of Congress in March 1923 to construct and maintain memorials in the United States and in foreign countries where U.S. armed forces have served since 6th April 1917. This is the date on which the United States declared war on Germany.
The Commission was set up to control the design and provide regulations for monuments, markers and memorials in foreign countries by other United States citizens and organizations. It was given responsibility for establishing permanent burial grounds in foreign countries. It was to be responsible for the design, construction, operation and maintainance of permanent memorials at the burial sites in foreign countries.
It was to control the building materials, provide regulations for and supervise the construction of monuments, memorials, buildings and other structures in United States cemeteries or memorials on foreign soil.
It was also to control the design of U.S. private monuments and co-operate with private individuals, states, municipalities or associations wishing to put up war memorials outside the continental limits of the United States.
The Commission is not responsible for the construction and maintenance of cemeteries in the continental United States or its territories.
WW1 U.S. Military Cemeteries and Memorials
During the First World War the United States War Department had established 8 U.S. military cemeteries, 12 monuments and two bronze tablets on the battlefields to honour the U.S. troops who had fought and died. In 1934 the ABMC took over the overseas cemeteries and monuments from the War Department. A chapel was built in each of the 8 military cemeteries.
U.S. WW1 Overseas Military Cemeteries
- Aisne-Marne, Belleau France
- Brookwood, Surrey, England
- Flanders Field, Waregem, Belgium
- Meuse-Argonne, Romagne, France
- Oise-Aisne, Fere-en-Tardenois, France
- St. Mihiel, Thiaucourt, France
- Somme, Bony, France
- Suresnes, France
U.S. WW1 Overseas Monuments
- Audenarde, Belgium
- Kemmel, Belgium
- Bellicourt, France
- Brest, France
- Cantigny, France
- Chateau-Thierry, France
- Montfaucon, France
- Montsec, France
- Sommepy, France
- Tours, France
U.S. WW1 Overseas Tablets
- Chaumont, France
- Souilly, France
At the end of the Second World War there were several hundred cemeteries around the world containing the remains of members of the U.S. armed forces. These had been established by the American Graves Registration Service of the United States Army. 172,000 individuals were repatriated between 1947 and 1954.
Some remains were in single plots, others were in larger cemeteries. Those in isolated plots outside the established cemeteries were allowed to remain there if the family wished, and they would then take on the responsibility for the maintenance of the grave. 14 cemeteries were classified as “permanent” sites and the land was granted to the United States by the host nation in perpetuity. Graves in all other remaining temporary cemeteries were exhumed and moved into the permanent sites.
By 1949 the interment of the graves that were to be left in the permanent cemetery sites and the reinterment of those that had been brought in from the temporary cemeteries was complete. The task of the construction of the cemeteries could begin. Reinforced concrete plinths were installed to ensure that all headstones were level. Headstones were made and installed. Water supplies for the gardens were installed. Buildings, paths, roads were constructed along with the visitors' buildings.
The architects were not restricted to a single design, but there were concepts for each site that had to be included. The design of each of these was, nevertheless, open to interpretation of the architect:
- A small chapel
- inscription of the names of the “missing” in the region
- a graphic record of where the troops in the region served (mainly WW2 sites, but there are battle maps in Oise-Aisne, Meuse-Argonne and St. Mihiel WW1 sites)
The architect for each cemetery and memorial was joined by an American landscape architect, an American sculptor and an American muralist or painter. Local contractors and artists were commissioned to undertake the work of the construction of the cemeteries and memorials by the Commission.
Each cemetery has a building or room for visitors complete with furnishings. This is not only a place for a visitor to rest and spend time in quiet reflection, but also the details of the grave locations or memorials to the missing locations are kept there.
Graves are marked by a Latin cross or a Star of David for a Jewish grave. Each headstone bears the details as follows:
- date of death
- state or territory from which the individual entered military service.
An unknown burial will bear the inscription:
“Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”
A Tablet of the Missing gives the following:
- circumstances under which death occurred.
Hours of Opening
All cemeteries are open daily.
For full details about the Commission and the services available to the public visit:
Address: American Battle Monuments Commission, Courthouse Plaza II, Suite 500 2300 Clarendon Boulevard, Arlington, VA 22201
Telephone: (703) 696-6900
Visitor's booklet provided by the ABMC at St. Mihiel American Cemetery and Memorial.