By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71
May is an important month for the US military. The 19th is Armed Forces Day and the 28th is the observation of Memorial Day. I cannot think of a better way to recognize the courage and sacrifice made by our Armed Forces in World War II, than to tell you about the Cemeteries and Monuments dedicated to our Armed Forces in Europe.
There are 13 American cemeteries and 3 monuments in Europe. According to the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC), there are 89,033 soldiers honored in the 13 cemeteries. 73,177 are buried; 15,856 are listed as missing. There are 3 monuments maintained by the commission—one in England and 2 in Normandy, France.
To help us learn more about these tributes for our fallen and missing soldiers of WW II, I have organized this by country to help make their unbelievable sacrifice a little more understandable.
This is a hard blog to write—the sheer numbers are staggering. Despite this tragic tale, these places are dignified and respectful. It is like Arlington Cemetery where my father and mother are buried—they use similar markers for each deceased, regardless of rank, but each has his or her legacy engraved on the markers. Here is what a marker looks like in Arlington National Cemetery:
In Europe, the markers are a cross. Here is a photo of an unknown American hero:
American Cemeteries in Belgium
There are 2 American Cemeteries in Belgium. The Ardennes American Cemetery contains 5,317 buried, with 65 percent of those being fallen airmen of the U.S. Army Air Forces. There are also tributes to the 463 reported missing in action. This cemetery served as the central identification point for all of the Europe Theater of Operations towards the end of the war and continued that mission of identification until 1960.
The Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery has 7,992 soldiers buried here and there is recognition for 450 missing in action. The majority of the fallen Americans are from two major efforts of WW II. The first battles were a result of the U.S. First Army’s drive in September 1944 through northern France, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg into Germany, and the second group of dead were from the Battle of the Bulge.
The American Cemetery in England
Cambridge American Cemetery is the only American Cemetery in England. The site was donated by Cambridge University. 3,812 are buried here; there is also tributes to the 5,127 reported missing in action. Most were crew members who died in the Battle of the Atlantic or in bombardments of Europe later in the war. In 2014, a visitor center was opened to help explain this critical phase of WW II. It even has a downloadable app to help visitors learn more about this vital war effort.
American Cemeteries in France
There are 6 American Cemeteries in France.
The Brittany American Cemetery is located near the eastern edge of Brittany. Here are buried 4,409 dead soldiers and there is recognition for 500 reported missing in action. Most of these military members died fighting in the Normandy and Brittany campaigns of 1944.
The Epinal American Cemetery is located near the Moselle River. It has 5,254 buried her, most of whom lost their lives in the drive by the 7th Army towards Germany in the northeastern portion of France. It also recognizes 424 missing in action.
The Lorraine American Cemetery contains the largest number of US soldiers killed in Europe—there are 10,489 buried here. Another 444 were reported missing in action and their names are listed on the plaques displayed here. Most of the dead here were killed while driving the German forces from the fortress city of Metz, France toward the Siegfried Line and the Rhine River.
The Normandy American Cemetery, perhaps the best known of all WW II cemeteries by Americans, is the final resting place for 9,385 killed and 1,557 reported missing during this campaign. It lies just yards from the Omaha Beach area. Walking this area is special—the rows of dignified markers honor these dead. It was the first cemetery established in Europe by the Americans. Walking this hallowed ground is a stark reminder of what it took to invade Europe—the sheer number of markers is just overwhelming. Anne & I led a tour here in 2014 for the 70th Anniversary of D Day (June 6, 1944) and we will lead a tour in 2019 for the 75th Anniversary. During the 2014 ceremonies, each gave site was marked with a small American and French flag. It was indeed memorable and touching and a fine tribute to our lost soldiers.
The Rhone American Cemetery is along the route used by the U.S. Seventh Army in its drive up the Rhone Valley. It was established on August 19, 1944 after the Seventh Army’s surprise landing in southern France. There are 860 dead buried her and recognition of the 294 missing servicemen who were in this battle area.
The smallest WW II cemetery is near Paris. The Suresnes American Cemetery is primarily a WW I cemetery, but it also has 24 unknown soldiers killed in WW II buried on the grounds.
There are 2 American Cemeteries in Italy.
The Florence American Cemetery has 4,399 soldiers buried here and there is recognition of 1,409 reported missing in action. These are soldiers of the 5th US Army, who died in the fight to capture Rome and in the heavy fighting battles in the Apennines Mountains that lasted until almost the end of WW II.
The Sicily-Rome American Cemetery has 7,860 buried in the cemetery and 3,095 are listed on plaques as missing in action. According to the ABMC website “The majority of these individuals died in the liberation of Sicily (July 10 to August 17, 1943); in the landings in the Salerno Area (September 9, 1943) and the heavy fighting northward; in the landings at Anzio Beach and expansion of the beachhead (January 22, 1944 to May 1944); and in air and naval support in the regions.”
One of the most well-known cemeteries in Europe by Americans, is the American Cemetery in Luxembourg. Along with the 5,075 buried here and the 371 reported missing, it is the burial site of LTG George Patton. Anne and I visited this sacred ground in 1989 while I was still on active duty. It was truly emotional for me—I was so humbled and grateful for these soldiers. Many of these soldiers lost their lives in the Battle of the Bulge and the subsequent drive to the Rhine River. My Dad was part of the Battle of the Bulge and he survived—I am sure knowing that made me respected these dead heroes even more.
There is only one American Cemetery in the Netherlands. It has 8,301 buried here; another 1,722 are listed as missing on the plagues displayed at this site. According to the AMBC, this cemetery has a unique connection to the Dutch people. “Since 1945 members of the local community have adopted the grave sites of our fallen. They bring flowers to the cemetery and research the life of the service member as a way to honor their sacrifice.” It is a nice tribute to those buried here.
There are 3 monuments in Europe commemorating the struggles our soldiers endured in route to our victory in Europe. The first 2 are in the Normandy area. They are the Point du Hoc Ranger Monument and the Utah Beach American Monument.
As a graduate of the US Army Ranger School, when I first walked the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc, I realized how difficult the climb was from the beach and I just could not imagine completing the climb under hostile fire. The monument is a ranger trench knife built on top of one of the bunkers of Pointe du Hoc. The mission of the second ranger battalion was to scale the cliffs and eliminate the 155 mm artillery cannons the Germans had placed on this key defensive position. In recognition of their successful mission, the monument was created by the grateful French people.
The monument on Utah Beach is a tribute to the successful amphibious assault landing on June 6, 1944. It commemorates the achievements of U.S. VII Corps forces that landed and fought in the liberation of the Cotentin Peninsula from June 6, 1944 to July 1, 1944.
The monument is a red granite obelisk set in a small park overlooking sand dunes of the historic site.
The newest monument is in Dartmouth, England and was dedicated on June 6, 2017. Dartmouth was one of the staging points for the D Day invasion.
My Final Thoughts
While researching this blog, I realized how many members of our Armed Forces scarified their lives against nations determined to defeat us and impose their will upon our country. I hope you will take a few minutes to reflect on this monumental effort and the cost to many who made the ultimate sacrifice. They deserved to be remembered and honored. I hope this blog did them justice and I hope you will remember them also.
May we never forget—be thou at peace to each who gave so much for our country.
Hank Schrader, Major (Infantry) USA Ret.