Dr. Steven Anders
Quartermaster Professional Bulletin – Autumn/Winter 1994
CARE OF THE WAR DEAD . . . During World War II, the U.S. Government called to service approximately 15,000,000 men and women. The number of American war dead totaled around 359,000, of which 281,000 were recovered and given burial in more than 250 temporary military cemeteries around the globe. The Quartermaster Corps had primary responsibility for search and recovery, establishment of collection points on the battlefield, initial identification of the deceased, the laying out of cemeteries, and overseeing proper interment.
It took almost another six years after the war (until the close of 1951) for final disposition to be accomplished. In all, some 171,000 casketed remains were delivered to next of kin in the United States. At the same time, approximately 97,000 dead were, according to wishes of the next of kin, buried abroad in permanent U.S. military cemeteries. Another 10,000 “unknowns” likewise found their final resting place on foreign soil.
The worldwide graves registration program, when finally completed, marked the largest reinterment operation ever. The search for the World War II era’s missing in action continues to this day.
EUROPE AND MEDITERRANEAN THEATERS . . .
In the European Theater, approximately 140,000 American deceased were buried in 36 temporary U.S. Military Cemeteries: 24 in France, 4 in Belgium, 3 in Holland, 2 in England, and 1 each in Ireland, Luxembourg and Switzerland. No two cemeteries were alike. Each initially preserved its natural surroundings. Hedgerows and shrubbery remained as they were when Allied troops marched across the countryside. At the same time, each cemetery was designed and laid out to give a high degree of commemoration to the valiant dead.
Another 51 temporary U.S. military cemeteries were established in the regions surrounding the Mediterranean: 20 of them on the Italian peninsula; 14 in Africa; 10 in the islands in the waist of the Mediterranean (Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica and Malta); and the remaining 7 in the Balkans, stretching from Greece through Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary and Rumania. Of the nearly 38,000 American dead in these cemeteries, only about 3 1/2 percent were classed as unknown, attesting to the high efficiency of wartime identification efforts in this area.
TWELVE PERMANENT CEMETERIES were developed in the postwar years, each one rich in historic association. . .Cambridge in England, Margraten in Holland, Henri Chapelle and Neuville-en-Condroz in Belgium, Hamm in Luxembourg. . .five in France, including St. Laurent which overlooks the Normandy beaches where American, British and Canadian troops stormed ashore on D-Day. . .two in Italy, Florence symbolizing the final triumph of the Fifth Army and Nettuno recalling its heroic stand in the Anzio beachhead. . .and one at Tunis, in Tunisia, where Hitler’s dream of an African empire perished.
PACIFIC THEATER . . .
During the bitter years from Pearl Harbor to the surrender of Japan in Tokyo Bay, more than 80,000 American soldiers gave their lives in the Pacific and on the Asiatic mainland in order to overthrow the Japanese Empire.
General MacArthur’s celebrated “island-hopping” campaign in the Southwest Pacific saw Allied forces eventually triumph in the Admiralties, at Buna, Finschhafen, Hollandia, Biak, Leyte, Luzon and elsewhere. But his long, hard-fought road to victory was laden with the graves of nearly 40,000 Americans. Another 30,000 remains lay in temporary military cemeteries reaching from Tarawa, in the Central Pacific, to the island of Zamami Shima, in the East China Sea off the coast of Okinawa. Losses on the Asiatic main-land were largely confined to flights of American airmen over the Himalayas between China and India, and on bombing missions to Japan from interior Chinese bases.
Graves registration service in the Pacific was especially complex, due to the extended area over which fighting occurred — and the harsh climate and terrain. In New Guinea, for instance, isolated graves were sometimes located far in the mountainous interior. Overland transportation, confined to native trails, was slow and difficult. The search and recovery effort was further hampered by the rapid growth of vegetation in the tropics, the tall kunai grass in some areas, and the dense jungle undergrowth in others.
TWO PERMANENT CEMETERIES. . .During the course of the war, 201 temporary military cemeteries were established: 133 in the Central and Southwest Pacific Zone, 59 in the India-Burma Zone, and 9 in the China Zone. With the conclusion of hostilities, only two sites were selected for permanent interment: the Punchbowl Cemetery at Honolulu, Hawaii, near where the first American servicemen fell in World War II during the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Fort McKinley Cemetery in the suburbs of Manila, representing the heavy price paid in fulfilling the U.S. goal to return to the Philippines.