The Foreign Burial of American War Dead

    “I knew that it was about 12 miles out  of town. So you mark out your distance [on Google maps] and you start looking in that area. There’s a bridge and the river, and you go a bit further where you turn left on a dirt road going to the west. You go just half a mile and it turns into a whole ranch area. There’s a church just further to the west, and a cemetery near that church.”

- Ron Bridgemon on the search for the 1916 burials (left, center) of Punitive
Expedition soldiers Hobert Ledford and Jay Richley near Parral, Mexico.

   Ron Bridgemon.

 burials to be Discovered and re-discovered                                                                                               mysteries to be Solved

is an American
Casualty of War?

Citizenship required?

Through much of American history those who fought under its flag in war were not always American natives or citizens. Generally speaking, though, everyone who fought and died with America was considered one of its own and buried as such. 

Fought with US Forces?

Conversely, many Americans, American immigrants, or those related to Americans by birth or marriage fought in the two World Wars under the flags of the Commonwealth nations, notably Canada and England. In the fullness of time, the American people and government recognized their service as legitimate, and their American citizenship was retained. Most of those who died in war are buried or memorialized in Commonwealth Grave Commission cemeteries worldwide. 

Some Americans killed in war in the service of non-Commonwealth nations are buried by other countries with full recognition of their American identity. American flyers who served with the French in World War I, for example, are interred with honors outside of Paris. Others who might have died in the service of the French Foreign Legion or the mercenary forces of other nations may or may not be buried with reference to their American origins. 

What type of service?

All of those buried in ABMC and CWGC cemeteries are considered casualties of war no matter their type of service. Soldiers, aviators, colonels, privates, secretaries, cooks, entertainers and those who fulfill all the other occupations of war are buried equally, but that sense of shared sacrifice doesn't always direct the considerations of other organizations related to war dead. During both world wars, for example, many Americans were killed as ambulance drivers and in other support activities through the American Field Services. Many are still buried abroad, to be discovered if there is a will to do so.


The Project to Identify American War Dead Still Buried Abroad.

The Foreign Burial of American War Dead explains the evolution of American attitudes about its war dead abroad from 1776 up to the present day, in which the prevailing attitude is that all who can be found must be found. The book lists all still buried abroad who can be named and located (excluding ABMC burials). It suggests mysteries to be solved and burial places yet to be discovered, or re-discovered. 

The Mapping Project

This Google map leads to locations and satellite images of the resting places of approximately 130,000 American war dead abroad since the Revolutionary War. The appendices of The Foreign Burial of American War Dead list the names and other identifying information
of approximately 5,000. Those buried in ABMC cemeteries are not included, nor are those killed in the Revolutionary War.

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This book was inspired by the story of Deadman's Island with approximately 195 American burials from the War of 1812 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It is told in The Enduring Journey of the USS Chesapeake.


Questions and


Research for The Foreign Burial of American War Dead  kept coming across mysteries that couldn't be solved despite good effort. Among them:

Cherbourg in the U.S. Civil War 

Page two of The Stars and Stripes of May 24, 1918 carries an article headlined "French Will Join Memorial Day." The article led the author to information about the dead of the battle between the CSS Alabama and USS Kearsarge in Cherbourg harbor during the Civil War, described in Chapter 13. They are said to be buried in a Cherbourg cemetery, but can't be found. The article went on to say that many might not be aware that there were 100 American military already buried in France.

"At Nantes are the graves of several of John Paul Jones' men. There are American graves at Villefranche, Versaillies, St. Germaine and Asnieres."

If, indeed, such graves existed as of 1918, the author was not able to find any record of them through basic research. Perhaps there is someone in France who knows about them, or someone in France willing to search them out, and report back to the rest of us.

Update: American War Memorials Overseas has found three casualties of the American Civil War buried in the Cherbourg Cemetery at Octeville.

Scandinavia in two World Wars 

Despite a friendly and helpful email relationship with a representative of AOMDA - France, the author has not been able to learn anything more about a claim on its website: "For graves in Denmark (120), Norway (120) and Sweden (12), the AOMDA sends flags to the American Embassies. The Embassies decorate the graves in Denmark and Norway, while the local American Legion Post places the flags in Sweden [and Germany]."

Update: Repeated efforts to learn more about that assertion have gone unanswered by AOMDA, the embassies, and the American Legion in Sweden. A very helpful piece of investigation has been undertaken by Andrew Martin, an American living in Sweden, though it may not be related to the AOMDA assertion. In the course of World War II, 42 American airmen were buried in Sweden, and, after the war, all but two of them were returned to the U.S. O.J. Ragland and Thomas C. Campbell both rest in Ostra Kyrkogard Cemetery in Malmo. For more information, see these links: 1, 2, 3

American Women Worldwide 

Most important, the subject of American women in war has been the topic of many books, academic studies and occasional newspaper features. But information about those women buried abroad is difficult to find. A good deal of the author's effort, without much success, went into following up on an article published in the New York Times of November 11, 1922. It is searchable by its headline 161 American Girls Died in World War I. Its subheads went on to assert that most were buried in France, but others were known to be buried in Siberia, Armenia, China, Manila and England. The women were, for the most part, Army, YMCA or Red Cross nurses.

Under the criteria set down in the formation of the American Battle Monuments Commssion, all nurses, secretaries, ambulance drivers, entertainers and other civilians killed in the course of war abroad are equally considered, buried and memorialized with those who died in combat. Of the 161 women listed by name and hometown in the New York Times article, just 20 can be found to be resting in ABMC's World War I cemeteries in England and France. 

The author was not able to find any information about events and discoveries subsequent to the publishing of the list. An intriguing example is that of Nettie Grace McBride. We know that she succumbed to typhus on December 23, 1918 while a nurse at the American Red Cross Hospital in Tumen, Siberia.

Six American soldiers carried her body to its last resting place, in a small Russian cemetery in which the Czech soldiers who had died in our hospital are buried. It is a beautiful place, like a small woods. She was buried in her Red Cross uniform, with a small American flag across the casket.

Update: since publication of the book, more information about Nettie Grace McBride has come online, most notably in a website developed by a relative. 

  It is not known if this gravesite still exists.

The Polar Bears 

Approximately 200 Americans were killed in and around Archangel, Russia in the course of the controversial "Polar Bear" expedition at the end of World War I. In 1919, a number of the dead were returned home on the transport ship Lake Daraga. Seventy-five more were returned in 1929, and 12 more in 1934. An unknown number remain in Arctic Russia, unnamed because the list of those returned on the Lake Daraga in 1919 can't be found. Though it is possible to name all who died, it is not possible to name all who were returned.

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