Last fall I published this post on my WWII Research and Writing Center website. I felt it was time to start talking about what the government did not pay for after the war. To bring out of the darkness the grief felt by families.
This article stirred a bit of controversy with people who believe our ABMC cemeteries are the only place a WWII soldier should be buried. Even one man who works at an ABMC cemetery was very angry in his comments telling me it was the highest place of honor for anyone to be buried and that they treat families very well.
That's true for some - TODAY. My family would disagree it is the highest place of honor for war dead because we have one soldier buried in ABMC Luxembourg but we also have several who were repatriated and are buried in Chicago. I know many other families who chose to repatriate their family members believe where they are now buried is the highest place of honor.
We have to keep in mind that there are very few people alive today that had to choose where to permanently bury a family member from WWII. Most of those service member's parents or spouses are long deceased. They were the ones who had to choose - not us. It is my point of view it is wrong for us to judge the choices of the past. We were not there standing in their shoes looking at what the service member may have wanted versus what we wanted versus what it would cost financially. Many families who chose to leave their sons buried overseas were still struggling from the Depression. When it is a choice to eat and survive or bury your son - what do you choose? We cannot answer that. We should not judge that.
As you will read in my article, when the war ended and families had to decide where to bury their husbands, sons, brothers, uncles, etc. The ABMC cemeteries we see today all lush and green, perfectly cared for TODAY were not that during or after the war. They were fields of mud and crosses. Once the war ended, Graves Registration Service beautified cemeteries so Memorial Day services could be held. Families in America had no idea the state of cemeteries overseas during the war. They had no idea so many people TODAY would care for those still buried overseas.
The cost of World War II is unimaginable, from the number of lives lost to the monetary expenditure to fight and later bring some living and dead back home. Many people today are under the assumption, based on misinformation that has circulated, that the U.S. government paid for every penny of the expense to return a soldier’s remains to the U.S. and bury him anywhere the family desired. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
Please meet Pvt. Joseph S. Kilian. I did locate a photo of Joseph on a family tree on Ancestry, but do not have permission to use the photo at the time I am writing this article. Joseph was part of Battery C 185th Field Artillery 34th Infantry Division. ASN: 33130298. He was Killed In Action 20 February 1943 in North Africa. He still rests there today.
Joseph is one example of a soldier who was unable to return home once the war was over. As you read through his Individual Deceased Personnel File (IDPF), not only do you learn about his service and death, you see his father wrote letters asking about the return of remains. One stated he was too poor to afford to bury his son in the U.S., even if the military returned Joseph’s remains.
The military responded about the costs of repatriation in a two page letter.
Sadly, Joseph’s case is not the only one in which a family could not afford to bury their son or daughter. Joseph’s father says, “I gave my son up to die for our country. But the government hasn’t repayed me a red cent.” (3 page letter p.35/79 IDPF).
I do not have all the answers as to why the government chose to only pay for certain things (burial in a national cemetery) rather than other things (burial in a private cemetery). I can only share the information as it was presented to families.
As we research the service members in our families, we should not only be looking at names, dates, and places. We should explore the dark depths and secrets of the family situation. From these things, we can learn so much more about those who have gone before us and ourselves.
Read an article I wrote after this one about the choice Bernie Tom's father had to make about where he would remain.
What do you think? If you lost family members in WWI or WWII, where are they buried?
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