The ABMC (American Battle Monuments Commission) celebrates its 100th anniversary throughout this year.
March 4, 2023 officially marked a century of caring for fallen American soldiers around the world. It was on this day that President Harding signed legislation that established the organisation. Originally the ABMC was created to construct monuments to the Great War in Europe.
It soon evolved to become the caretaker of America’s overseas military cemeteries. The shift started when Congress directed ABMC to construct memorial chapels in the 8 permanent military cemeteries created in Europe after WW1, then maintained by the War Department.
Today, there are 26 permanent American burial grounds around the world. They hold around 130,000 remains of service men and women, while another 94,000 names of the missing feature on the memorial walls.
Since its inception, the ABMC has had the preservation of the soldiers’ legacy of service as its core purpose. The men and women who work at the various sites take their guardianship very seriously. With the passing of time, memories fade. Their challenge is to keep next generations informed about the sacrifices made by every single service (wo)man. To do so, they need to find new and innovative ways of reflecting the evolving nature of sacrifice.
The centennial offers opportunity to connect with new audiences. One way to achieve this is through a new documentary film about ABMC sites and the fallen troops under their care.
Meanwhile, the cemetery Superintendents and their support staff continue to inform and educate visitors. They ensure, in the words of General John J. Pershing, that ‘time will not dim the glory of their deeds.’
It is interesting to note that the vast majority of visitors to the cemeteries are not American. They are instead mostly nationals from the respective countries where they are located. An enduring gratitude from those nations has created some touching practices.
After WW1, families had the option of where their loved one would be laid to rest. The remains could either be repatriated or left overseas where they fell in battle, side-by-side with their brothers-in-arms. Relatives rarely find the opportunity to visit.
The ABMC ground crews maintain the graves and cemeteries impeccably, but the system of adoption ensures that individual graves receive regular visits. Last year, one of our tour families managed to meet up with “their” adoptive caretaker.
Whenever families do visit, cemetery staff make every effort to provide them with assistance to locate the grave. Every cemetery has sand from a main landing beach available to fill in the lettering on the headstones for better pictures. If notified beforehand, they will also research the service the soldier’s story during service.
Even though the official anniversary date is in March, more celebrations are planned for Memorial Day in May, reaching a wider audience.
ABMC sees the start of the second century of their service as a great opportunity to introduce new generations of Americans to the fallen heroes still so much revered by the local commuities.
We want to take the opportunity to say a big “thank you” to everyone at ABMC for their unwavering care for both the departed under their care and the living coming to pay their respects.