The American Battle Monuments Commission
An example of the great service and dedication provided by the men and women of the ABMC occurred in 2006 when I visited the Cambridge cemetery late one Friday afternoon in May. One of those 3,812 graves is that of my wife’s uncle, an airman who was killed in 1943. At the reception building I was met by the deputy superintendent and while he looked up the location of the grave I happened to mention that I’d like to take home a photograph of the grave but had forgotten to bring a camera. No problem, he said, and went to fetch a camera, a small bucket of wet sand, a putty knife and a small American and British flag, each mounted on a wooden staff. At the gravesite, he explained that in order for the name to be visible in a photo against the white marble background it was necessary to highlight the engraving with sand. However, this was no ordinary sand but sand taken from Omaha Beach. Every three months a new batch is sent to the cemetery for this very purpose.
Carefully placing each flag on either side of the gravestone, he got down on his knees, and snapped several photographs. While he went off to develop them, I wandered among the graves, stopping at random to read the inscriptions. Some were airmen, obviously lost on a mission, others were paratroopers killed in action in Normandy. More than likely the paratroopers had survived long enough from their wounds to be evacuated to England. Each of the graves had a story. Now all were bonded for eternity.
A short later, after visiting the memorial, which included a small chapel and a stained glass window in which the seal of every state of the Union is represented, I was presented with a package containing a photo of the grave, the flags, and information about the deceased, the cemetery. All visitors are accorded this courtesy at no charge. I left feeling an overwhelming sense of sadness but with great gratitude for the outstanding and dignified manner in which these cemeteries are maintained, and its occupants honored by America. I commend the ABMC for their great work. My personal admiration for the job they do – and do so well – is unbounded.
Pershing has best defined the role of the ABMC when he wrote of the soldiers of the AEF he once commanded: “Time will not diminish the glory of their deeds.” (Brig. Gen. J.W. Nicholson, USA Ret. (Secretary of the ABMC), “Off the Beaten Path,” Army magazine, Nov. 2005.)
The best known of the overseas cemeteries is in Normandy at St. Laurent-sur-Mer, overlooking Omaha Beach. It will be the subject of a forthcoming article.
For your information I’ve downloaded a sampling of the monuments and cemeteries from the ABMC website. Readers are invited to visit www.abmc.gov/ – where you can view and download a video and obtain more detailed information about both the Commission and each of the cemeteries and memorials.
Pictured in order are: Ardennes American Cemetery and Memorial; Chateau-Thierry American Monument; Guadalcanal American Memorial; Honolulu Memorial; Manila American Cemetery and Memorial; North Africa American Cemetery and Memorial; Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument; Sicily – Rome American Cemetery and Memorial; St. Mihiel American Cemetery and Memorial.