The American entrance into World War I was preceded by the Punitive Expedition to Mexico of 1916-1917. Among those whose lives were lost were Hobert Ledford and Jay Richley, temporarily buried on a ranch near Parral, Mexico, where they still rest. Their graves receive the regular attention of Ron Bridgemon and others.
“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.”
Flanders Fields, near Waregem, Belgium would become an iconic cemetery of the American Battle Monuments Commission. On Memorial Day 1927, the American aviator Charles Lindbergh dropped a bouquet of flowers after his historic flight across the Atlantic.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields. - John McRae
In the 1930s, the American government supported journeys to the graves of their sons by the Gold Star Mothers.
Catherine Gorman stands at the grave of her son, Vincent, at the Suresnes American cemetery in France.
History does not well record the enlistment of approximately 70,000 Americans and American-related in the British Commonwealth forces as they fought in two World Wars. Most were American citizens, immigrants in America or sons of American immigrant families who entered the wars through Canada before the U.S. declaration of 1917. These Americans were valued participants in the history of the U.S. in war. Precursors of official American participation, they were quietly and implicitly encouraged in their actions, and were able to retain American citizenship in all cases. Approximately 2,700 were killed in WW I, and 29 of those rest in the Commonwealth cemetery at Bucquoy, Pas de Calais, France. See Pierre Vandervelden's In Memory website.
Approximately forty-seven Americans and American-related are buried in the Lijssenthoek Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) cemetery in Belgium under grave markers that imply that they are Canadian.
Lijssenthoek was a temporary cemetery for American soldiers in WW I. All were eventually reburied, except for Lt. James Pigue, whose gravestone once stood among hundreds of others. Each Memorial Day it is visited by Jerry Sheridan and Laura Hoffman of the American Overseas Memorial Day Association (AOMDA), Belgium.
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.
The picture is from an inventory of graves in a temporary cemetery. Though buried side by side at the same time, the remains of Alfred E. Lyttle, hometown unknown, were eventually returned. The remains of Joseph D. Marchlewski, of Alpena, have been lost. (Courtesy Bentley Archive, University of Michigan). Also see:
Memorial Day at the Henri-Chappelle WW II cemetery and memorial in Belgium. The American Battle Monuments Commission was created in 1923, and would eventually maintain 26 burial grounds and 31 memorials, from the Pacific, across America and into Europe. By law, American families of the fallen could choose whether their loved one would be brought home or buried in an American cemetery abroad. Approximately 40 percent of the dead of both World Wars remain in ABMC cemeteries.
Many Allied flyers shot down over Europe in World War II were sequestered by resistance groups and moved into human chains that would return them to England. In the last months of the war, some would instead choose to remain where they fell and join the resistance effort. When John McCormick’s plane fell into a farm field near Zoetermeer, the Netherlands in February 1945, he opted to offer his skills to the resistance and was killed by a German sniper two months later. McCormick’s father acceded to the request of the people of Zoetermeer to bury him in the courtyard of their Dutch Reformed Church, which they did in ceremony on October 31, 1945. He is still the center of attention in each year’s May 4 celebration of Dutch Remembrance Day. (Courtesy Historisch Genootschap Oud Soetermeer).
World War II brought the denotation of American origin on some, but not all, gravestones of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The CWGC plot of the New Eastern Cemetery in Amsterdam holds three Americans of the Royal Canadian Air Force. The graves of Pilot Officer Cecil William Simmons of Winston Salem, North Carolina and Sergeant Peter Prime of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin denote them as “Of U.S.A.” The markers for Flight Sergeant Howard Edward Johnson of Clawson, Michigan and Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve Pilot Officer Robert Hage of Missoula, Montana do not.
The Brookwood Cemetery outside of London holds an ABMC burial ground for WW I Americans, and WW II burials of the CWGC. Some of those are Americans who flew with British and Canadian air forces at rest under Commonwealth grave markers that do not identify them as American.
Pilot Officer Hugh Harrison McCall was born in Hennepin County, Minnesota in 1917 and grew up in South Pasadena, California. A member of the 133d Eagle Squadron of American flyers, his airplane was struck from the sky by bad weather over the Isle of Man in October 1941.
When Staff Sergeant Gerald Sorenson of Pocatello, Idaho jumped from his faltering B-17 to Gibecq, Belgium he was sequestered by the Belgian Resistance in the home of the Abeels family in the Brussels suburb of Ganshoren. He immediately formed a brother’s relationship with Roger Abeels and Roger’s younger sister, Janine. As members of the Secret Army, Sorenson and Roger Abeels were killed by a hand grenade as the Germans retreated across Belgium in September 1945. Temporarily for Sorenson, they were buried side by side in the communal cemetery in Ganshoren, but the developing relationship between the Idaho and Belgian families led to a decision to leave them together. On the American Memorial Day weekend in 2009 their little sister Janine visited their common grave in an annual ceremony.