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The Unsung Groundskeepers of America’s Military Cemeteries Overseas

Agency maintains 26 cemeteries, 32 monuments

Brookwood American Cemetary
Warrick Page/American Battle Monuments Commission

Although it maintains 26 American military cemeteries and 32 federal monuments in 17 countries, the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) remains a largely unknown federal agency.

“A lot of people don’t realize that the U.S. government does this,” said ABMC’s chief of historical services, Michael Knapp. “The host nations have generally provided this land to us, in perpetuity, free of tax charges.”

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The agency was created in 1923 when the U.S. had to address the high number of overseas casualties after World War I. Its locations honor 30,973 graves from WWI, 92,958 from World War II and more than 94,000 Americans who are missing in action or buried at sea. Not only are these cemeteries the resting place for soldiers but also civilians such as Red Cross workers, nurses, technicians and merchant seamen.  

Each location has a superintendent vetted by the U.S. government who lives on site and manages its grounds. Larger locations also employ foreign nationals who assist with the cemetery’s administration, acting as a liaison with the ground staff.

“I think our staff do a phenomenal job. If you look at our cemeteries overseas, the caliber is really, I believe, the gold standard,” Knapp said.

Keeping legacies alive

As more children and spouses of those buried in ABMC cemeteries die, the commission is shifting toward educating the public to keep history alive. “We’re doing that through visitor centers, educational and outreach programs to continually keep the memory of these Americans in the forefront of people’s consciousness,” Knapp said.

Anyone can search a database to find a person’s grave information or order flowers to any of the cemeteries. Families and next of kin may request an escort to a loved one’s grave or ask for photographs of a gravesite.

ABMC’s locations around the globe include:

Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial, France

Aisne Marne
American Battle Military Commission

The 42.5-acre cemetery and memorial contains 2,289 graves. Most of the fallen fought in and around the Marne Valley in the summer of 1918 during World War I.

Ardennes American Cemetery, Belgium

Ardennes Cemetary
American Battle Military Commission

The World War II cemetery and memorial is the final resting place for 5,162 Americans, mostly from the Army Air Forces. Their headstones are aligned in rows that depict a Greek cross.

 

Chateau-Thierry Monument, France

Chateau Thierry
American Battle Military Commission

This monument commemorates the sacrifices and achievements during the Aisne-Marne and Oise-Aisne offensives of World War I.

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Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines

Manila American Cemetary
American Battle Military Commission

Occupying 152 acres, the Manila American Cemetery contains the largest number of graves from World War II. Nearly all the 16,859 lives were lost during operations in New Guinea and the Philippines.

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, France

Normandy Cemetary
American Battle Military Commission

Most of the 9,386 people resting at the Normandy cemetery died during the D-Day landings and ensuing operations. The 172.5-acre site is one of ABMC’s most visited locations, bringing more than 1 million visitors in 2022. 

Guadalcanal Memorial, Solomon Islands

Guadalcanal Memorial
American Battle Military Commission

The World War II memorial is on Skyline Drive overlooking the town of Honiara. It honors the Americans and their allies who died during the Guadalcanal campaign of World War II. 

Honolulu Memorial, Hawaii

Honolulu Memorial
American Battle Military Commission

The memorial honors the sacrifices and achievements of American armed forces in the Pacific during World War II and the Korean War. The memorial expanded in 1980 to include those missing from the Vietnam War.

The monument commemorates the achievements and sacrifices of the 90,000 American troops who served in battle with the British armies in France in 1917 and 1918. 

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