It was on a prisoner's march in the summer of 1780 that Americans Andrew Sherburne and his fellow captives of the British arrived at a bay near Placentia, Newfoundland. There they found the bodies of fourteen men and a boy scattered on the shore amidst the wreckage of an American merchant ship that, under the Letters of Marque in force at the time, would be considered a military ship. " We buried them as decently as in our circumstances we could," as Andrew Sherburne told his memoirs. It was perhaps the first recorded burial in a foreign land of Americans killed in conflict.
When we think of American military members still buried abroad in modern times, attention goes to the cemeteries of the American Battle Monument Commission in ten nations stretching from the Philippines to Italy. They hold many of the casualties of American participation in two World Wars. But Americans killed in combat since the Revolutionary War are still buried in sometimes forgotten places from Asia to Mexico and Canada, Europe and North Africa and up to Arctic Russia.
Another group of Americans who fought under foreign flags with the implicit encouragement of the U.S. government are buried in places that extend to the most obscure corners of the world, alphabetically from Algeria to Yemen. The ethic of burial "as decently as in our circumstances we could" has been followed, with some exceptions, since the time of Andrew Sherburne. After the U.S. Civil War, official protocols were put in place for the disposition of those Americans killed in war beyond our borders, and the following decades saw an evolving philosophy about our relationship to those who die in our names abroad. That evolution offers a unique perspective on the full history of America at war.
The Henri-Chappelle American Cemetery in Belgium is one of the traditional burial places of the American Battle Monuments Commission, but there are others less well known around the world.
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