Introduction: In this article – in honor of the upcoming Memorial Day – Gena Philibert-Ortega describes an important resource for information about American veterans buried overseas. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.”
On Memorial Day, we honor members of the Armed Forces who were killed while serving our country. If you’ve researched a veteran ancestor or had a veteran family member pass away, you are probably familiar with the nation’s national cemeteries. These 142 cemeteries in 40 states and Puerto Rico are the final resting places for those who have served our country. (1)
But less well known are the cemeteries in the care of the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC).
The American Battle Monuments Commission was founded in 1923.
ABMC is the “guardian of America’s overseas commemorative cemeteries and memorials – honors the service, achievements and sacrifice of U.S. Armed Forces.” This mission includes:
- “Designing, constructing, operating and maintaining permanent American cemeteries in foreign countries.
- “Establishing and maintaining U.S. military memorials, monuments and markers where American armed forces have served overseas since April 6, 1917, and within the United States when directed by public law.
- “Controlling the design and construction of permanent U.S. military monuments and markers by other U.S. citizens and organizations, both public and private, and encouraging their maintenance.” (2)
ABMC is responsible for:
“26 permanent American burial grounds and 30 separate memorials, monuments and markers, on foreign soil. It also maintains three memorials in the United States. Today there are 124,000 American war dead interred in these cemeteries, of which 30,973 are from World War I commemorative cemeteries, 92,958 from World War II commemorative cemeteries, and 750 from the Mexican-American War. Additionally, more than 15,000 American veterans and others are interred in the Mexico City National Cemetery, Corozal American Cemetery and Clark Veterans Cemetery. More than 94,000 American servicemen and women who were missing in action, lost, or buried at sea during World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War are commemorated by name on stone tablets in ABMC cemeteries and memorials.” (3)
The majority of these burials are for those soldiers who died fighting in World War I and World War II. However, the Mexico City National Cemetery has burials of Americans who died in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848).
Searching the ABMC Website for a Burial or Memorial
Looking for a burial? You can conduct a name search on the ABMC website to find more information. The search engine allows you to include additional information, if known, including branch of service and serial number.
Burial search results can include the soldier’s rank, what state they entered the service from, date of death, where they are buried, and honors (such as the Purple Heart). A Memorial Certificate button allows you to download and print a certificate suitable for framing that honors that soldier.
What doesn’t ABMC have? They don’t have information on burials occurring in the United States. Keep in mind that if the deceased soldier was initially buried overseas but then repatriated back to the United States, he or she will not be found in the ABMC search. In that case you will want to try the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Nationwide Gravesite Locator.
If you have a family member buried in a cemetery in the care of the American Burial Monuments Commission, their staff can help you in a number of ways, including:
- If you are visiting the cemetery, staff can escort you to the gravesite of your loved one, take photographs, and provide a tour of the cemetery.
- Direct next of kin can request a photograph of the gravestone as well as any floral arrangements sent for the grave site.
- Immediate family members can request a fee-free passport for travel to the cemetery.
See the ABMC’s Our Services page for details about these and other services.
(1) “Department of Veterans Affairs Cemetery Listing,” US Department of Veterans Affairs (https://www.cem.va.gov/cems/listcem.asp: accessed 19 May 2020). Aside from National cemeteries there are also State Veterans Cemeteries.
(2) “About Us,” American Battle Monuments Commission (https://www.abmc.gov/about-us: accessed 18 May 2020).
(3) “History,” American Battle Monuments Commission (https://www.abmc.gov/about-us/history: accessed 18 May 2020).