The United States Military branches have tried over the decades to fulfill a commitment to bring every single American soldier back home, even those killed in battle. Yet, over the 20th century with the many wars, it was not always possible. So special cemeteries, considered American property, were constructed on foreign soil for those fallen soldiers to have a proper burial in a designated region joined by other American soldiers.
Within the Federal government there is an agency known as the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) who overseas these very special cemeteries. It was first established back in 1923 and has overseen the remains of American Armed Forces since World War One.
The ABMC also oversees Tables of the Missing and some 25 different markers, monuments and memorials across the United States and in other countries. One of the most famous is the World War II Memorial in Washington, D. C. which is a registry of all those who served during the Second World War, including civilians. It was established by the ABMC and now administered by the National Park Service.
However, for researchers wanting to learn if and where an ancestor who died during a war was buried, especially if it was overseas the ABMC is an excellent location web site to explore. This commission has the records and maintains 24 permanent overseas military cemeteries with some 125,000 American military personnel buried there.
Some of the cemeteries are quite famous, such as the Normandy American Cemetery in France. The commission on the web site even has videos about some of the cemeteries including a live web camera at the Normandy American Cemetery which is just fascinating in the amount of information and scenes it provides.
They provide on the web site a very easy to search collection of databases. There is one for military personnel who died in World War One, then those from World War Two and next the Korean War. A fourth database is titled ‘Other Burial Listings’ which included the veterans and war dead from the Mexican War of the 1840s, the American Civil War of the 1860s, the Spanish-American War of the 1890s as well as those who were buried in special ABMC cemeteries located in Mexico City in Mexico and in Corozal, Panama. Those buried in Corozal include the thousands of American civilians who died during the construction and running of the U. S. Panama Canal in the Canal Zone. Many researchers may not realize that there are 53 American servicemen and veterans who served during the American Civil War and were buried in Mexico City National Cemetery or the in the Corozal American Cemetery. In each case the person’s full name, the rank, the military unit and which cemetery is listed in that database.
The largest database is that of the casualties from World War Two. Buried in foreign lands in the American cemeteries are some 176,399 listings. Some of those are name on the Walls of the Missing, those military personnel who body was never recovered. After the war, families of the soldiers had the option of having their relative’s body remain buried in the cemetery overseas or shipped back to the United States. In some cases it took 2 to 5 years after the end of the war in 1945 before some soldiers' bodies were returned home for reburial.
In doing a search on the World War Two database you can start with just a surname. Inserting the surname of ‘Harrison’ produced 119 records. It might be the best way to search for a certain ancestor since the given names might be only initials or a full name. The listing will provide the person’s rank, the serial number, the exact date of death and the name of the cemetery they are buried in. The cemetery names have initials, all explained at the bottom of the site. For example: ‘NO’ would be Normandy in France, ‘AR’ is Ardennes in Belgium, ‘ML’ would be Manila in the Philippines and ‘SR’ would be Sicily & Rome in Italy. There is also an image of the each cemetery.
Click on the button ‘Go’ alongside the name for additional information which include what state they entered the military, any medals they were awarded and the exact plot, row and grave number. If a person was missing in action or buried at sea that information would also be noted.
The Korean War database will include the person’s date of birth, which is very helpful in establishing the correct person you are searching for. Many also have some details as to the events of how the person died.
Even if you are not sure if an ancestor in the military was buried overseas, check out the databases to see what you might discover. The photo above is from the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, France (by Michael Abrams from Stars & Stripes).