Prior to 1923, no federal agency was responsible for commemorating the sacrifices and achievements of the U.S. armed forces. After the allied victory in World War I, many American military units erected monuments and markers to themselves where they had served in Europe. These monuments and markers came in assorted sizes, shapes and descriptions. Too often, they bore little relationship to the achievements of the units, were poorly designed and constructed, were erected on land not owned by the units, and were without provision for future maintenance.
Legislation enacted in 1923 (36 U.S.C. 121-138c) created the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) and made the Commission responsible for honoring American armed forces where they served and for controlling the construction of American military monuments and markers on foreign soil by U.S. citizens and organizations. On June 26, 1946, an amendment extended the authority of the commission to cover all battlefields and cemeteries outside the United States.
The commission’s World War I commemorative program consisted of the erection of a non-sectarian chapel in each of the eight permanent American military cemeteries on foreign soil established by the War Department; the landscaping of each of these cemeteries; integration of sculpture, battle maps and Tablets of the Missing as memorial features; and the erection of 11 separate monuments elsewhere in Europe.
On Feb. 26, 1934, under Presidential Executive Order 6614, ABMC was given responsibility for the eight existing permanent American military cemeteries in Europe, and for the design, construction, operation and maintenance of future permanent American military cemeteries erected on foreign soil. The commission assumed responsibility for Mexico City National Cemetery on July 17, 1947, under Presidential Executive Order 9873.
By the end of World War II, several hundred temporary military cemeteries had been established in battle areas around the world. Fourteen sites on foreign soil were selected jointly by the secretary of the army and ABMC to become permanent World War II memorial cemetery sites. These sites corresponded closely to the course of military operations during the war. These cemeteries were turned over to ABMC by Presidential Executive Order 10057 on May 16, 1949, in the configuration proposed by the cemetery architect and approved by the commission.
The World War II commemorative program consisted of establishing 14 memorial cemeteries and three separate monuments on foreign soil that Americans helped to liberate, and three memorials in the United States. Like the World War I cemeteries, use of the World War II cemetery sites was granted in perpetuity by the host government. Except in the Philippines, burial was limited to members of the U. S. armed forces who died overseas during the war. The agreement with the Philippine government permitted members of the Philippine Scouts and Philippine Army units that fought with U.S. forces to be interred in the permanent cemetery in Manila.
Today, all of the World War I and World War II overseas military cemeteries are closed to burials, except for remains of U.S. service members that may still be discovered in those battle areas.
Since the Korean War, all recovered remains of American war dead have been returned to the U.S., its territories, or its possessions for burial.
The principal functions of the commission are to:
• Commemorate the sacrifices and achievements of the U.S. armed forces through the establishment of memorials outside the United States where American forces have served since April 6, 1917, and in the United States as directed by public law.
• Design, construct, administer and maintain permanent U.S. burial grounds in foreign countries.
• Control the design and construction on foreign soil of U.S. military memorials, monuments and markers by U.S. citizens and organizations, public and private, and encourage their maintenance.
Interred in ABMC cemeteries are almost 125,000 U.S. war dead: about 31,000 from World War I; over 93,000 from World War II; and 750 from the Mexican American War. Additionally, over 6,000 American veterans and others are interred in the Mexico City National Cemetery and Corozal American Cemetery in Panama.
In addition to grave sites, the World War I and II cemeteries, together with three memorials on U.S. soil, commemorate by name on Tablets of the Missing over 94,000 U.S. servicemen and women who were missing in action or lost or buried at sea during the world wars, the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
ABMC administers trust funds to build memorials authorized by Congress, but financed primarily from private contributions, commemorative coin proceeds, and investment earnings; to decorate grave sites with flowers from private contributions; and to maintain and repair nonfederal war memorials with private contributions.
Services to the Public
Burial databases of those interred or memorialized at ABMC commemorative sites are available to the public on the commission Web site at www.abmc.gov. The World War I and II databases include the plot, row and grave number of those interred in the cemeteries, or the memorialization site if the individual is listed on Tablets of the Missing. The Web site also contains general and historical information about ABMC cemeteries and memorials and directions to the cemeteries.
Upon request, the commission will provide authorization for issuance of no-fee passports for members of the immediate family traveling overseas specifically to visit an ABMC grave or memorialization site, and make arrangements for floral decoration of a grave or memorialization site.
The commission invites you to experience these inspirational and educational commemorative shrines on your next journey.