How World War II Armies Dealt With Millions Of War Dead

May 13, 2020 Topic: History Blog Brand: The Reboot Tags: World War IIWarMilitaryTechnologyDefense

How World War II Armies Dealt With Millions Of War Dead

The grim but necessary task of caring the the war dead was the responsibility of the Army’s graves registration units.

“Commanders must recognize these facts and plan ways to offset them, especially if the unit will need augmentation from other units to accomplish its mortuary affairs missions. Ways to reduce mental stress include chain of command involvement and assistance from chaplains, psychologists, and social workers. This should be an essential part of peacetime preparation.”

359 American WWII Military Cemeteries

After the war, a Quartermaster report noted, “As of April 6, 1946, there were a total of 359 American military cemeteries containing the remains of 241,500 World War II dead. Estimated number of World War II service dead is 286,959 [that figure has since been raised to around 359,000, although estimates are higher still]. Of this number 246,492 have already been identified: Of the 40,467 who were unidentified as of March 31, 1946, the remains of 18,641 have been located by Graves Registration units. The remaining 21,826 were not reported located up to that time. Of those 18,641 remains which have been located, 10,986 now repose in military cemeteries and 7,655 in isolated graves.”

In addition to eight World War I American cemeteries in Europe, there are also 12 in Europe from World War II (France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland, and Italy), one in England, one in North Africa (Tunisia), and one in the Philippines. Except for those remains that may, in the future be found on the battlefields, no further burials may be made in the cemeteries under the American Battle Monuments Commission’s jurisdiction. On occasion, remains are found (even today there are groups of local volunteers digging in the battlefields of Europe in hopes of finding and repatriating war dead) and are respectfully buried in the nearest military cemetery to where the body was located, unless the family requests otherwise.

At some of the cemeteries, many of the local people have lovingly adopted the grave of an American soldier who is unknown to them but has become their “adopted son,” and regularly place fresh flowers at the grave as a way of quietly thanking him for his sacrifice.

Although the name of the Army Graves Registration Service has been changed to Mortuary Affairs, the mission remains the same: to spare no effort in the recovery, identification, return, and burial of deceased personnel, and to assist families during an emotionally difficult time of bereavement.

This article first appeared at the Warfare History Network.

Image: Reuters.