The American Battle Monuments Commission
One of its first junior staff members was Maj. Dwight Eisenhower, who was assigned to the Commission in 1927 and spent much of 1928 and 1929 in France touring the battlefields to catalog, map and take notes about every aspect of the battles fought by American forces. The results of his labors became the prime ingredient of major revisions to A Guide to the American Battlefields in Europe, originally written by Eisenhower and published by the ABMC in 1927. (A more complete story of Ike, Pershing and the ABMC can be found in Chap. 16 of the author’s Eisenhower: A Soldier’s Life.)
Over time, the mission of the ABMC has evolved into that of the guardian of its twenty-four permanent military cemeteries both in the United States and overseas, and of twenty-five memorials, markers and monuments. Of the twenty-four cemeteries, the largest number are in France (11). Others are in Belgium (3), Italy and England (2 each); the remainder (1 each) are situated in Mexico, the Philippines, Luxembourg, Tunisia, Panama, and the Netherlands.
Each of these cemeteries is distinctive. As a recent article on the ABMC noted, “Each has its own ambience. No two have the same gardens or the same architecture. Physically they may resemble one another, but a visit to one is not the same experience as a visit to another. Perhaps only the spiritual qualities are similar . . . For those who have a sense of history, sacrifice and beauty, each site offers a different and unique experience.” (Brig. Gen. J.W. Nicholson, USA Ret. (Secretary of the ABMC), “Off the Beaten Path,” Army magazine, Nov. 2005.)
All are open to visitors from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM daily. The only two days of the year in which they are closed are Christmas and New Year’s Day.
It is important to note that Arlington National Cemetery (operated by the US Army) is not part of the ABMC, nor are the other national cemeteries in the United States, which are administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
As of 2005 there were nearly 125,000 war dead that are interred in the various cemeteries administered by the ABMC. According to their most recent brochure, 30,922 are from World War I, 93,245 from World War II and 750 from the Mexican War.”
Not all those who lay down their lives are accounted for. As of 2008, there are some 70,000 still missing in action from World War II. Nearly 25,000 more remain MIA from the Korean and Vietnam wars. Many were lost at sea or in the air. Their names can be found memorialized on what is called a Tablet of the Missing in each of the cemeteries nearest to the region where they were known to have been lost. For example, a section of the American Military Cemetery in Cambridge, England, has a wall containing a Tablet of the Missing that lists the names of 5,127, many of whom died in the battle of the Atlantic or in the air over northwest Europe. Whenever any of the missing are recovered and identified a rosette is placed next to the name.
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