In honor of Memorial Day, Dr. Curtis Abell will present a special program on Tuesday, May 26, at 7 p.m. at the Iredell County Public Library in Statesville. The focus of the lecture will be on "Military Cemeteries in Europe." The American Battle Monuments Commission is an agency of the federal government that was created by an act of Congress in 1923. The ABMC administers, maintains and operates 25 U.S. military cemeteries on foreign soil containing 124,905 war dead. Dr. Abell is an avid military historian and a member of the Historic Vance House Association in Statesville.
Of the American war dead interred in foreign cemeteries, 30,922 are from World War I, 93,233 are from World War II and 750 are from the Mexican War. In addition there are more than 94,000 who are listed as missing in action, lost or buried at sea. The names of those missing are recognized by carved monuments bearing their names. These missing men and women are from World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. In World War I families of deceased soldiers could either have their loved ones buried in overseas cemeteries, returned to the U.S. to a national cemetery or a family grave site, or be sent anywhere in the world with the family responsible for funeral costs. Twenty percent of the families chose to have their lost buried in overseas cemeteries.
After World War I the Gold Star Mothers Association was formed to provide support for mothers who had lost sons or daughters during the war. In 1929 Congress authorized the Secretary of War to arrange for mothers and widows of fallen military personnel to visit the graves of their sons and husbands in foreign cemeteries. By the time the program ended on October 31, 1933, 6,693 women had made the pilgrimage to visit the graves of their loved ones. Years ago I researched a family with a Gold Star Mother who made the journey. Pvt. Charles E. Dysart was killed in France on June 21, 1918 during the Battle of Belleau Wood in France. In 1919 Caldwell County American Legion Post 29 was formed and named Dysart-Kendall in honor of Dysart and Cpl. J.E. Kendall both of whom were killed on the same day. In the early 1930s Dysart’s mother made the trip to France by ship to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery where a white cross bears her son’s name. She later described seeing “a sea of black” as the ship pulled into port in France. French mothers who had lost sons in the war had come to the dock to welcome America’s Gold Star Mothers.
The best known American military cemetery overseas is Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France. This is the cemetery shown in the closing scene of the movie, “Saving Private Ryan.” France has the most American military cemeteries with eleven. The largest cemetery in France is the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial which covers 130.5 acres and has 14,245 graves and 954 listed as missing. Most of these were killed during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive during World War I. The oldest foreign cemetery is the Mexico City National Cemetery which dates from 1847 and contains the graves of nearly 750 unidentified American soldiers killed in the Mexican-American War. The largest overseas cemetery is the World War II Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in the Philippines with 17,201 graves and 36,285 listed as missing in action. By the Korean War the United States had dedicated itself to bringing all fallen servicemen and women home and this effort still goes on today in the search for Korean and Vietnam military remains.
The Iredell County Public Library has a collection of 118 interviews with Iredell County war veteran men and women recorded by the Fort Dobbs Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution and Rev. David Comer with “From Generation to Generation” in Statesville. These DVDs are located beside the library’s Reference Department on the top floor and are available for checkout. Hanging inside the Local History room is a small bronze plaque which reads, “In Honor of Those Who Served in World War II, Iredell County Chapter American War Mothers.”
Joel Reese, Local History Librarian
Iredell County Public Library
This article was published in the Statesville Record and Landmark as “Many war dead buried in foreign cemeteries” on May 24, 2015