WWII U.S. MILITARY CEMETERIES & BURIALS

 
 

 

 

 

MILITARY BURIALS

Burials of the dead in a theater of operations would have been considered to be of the following general types, the classification being predicated upon the urgency of immediate burial, the presence or absence of graves registration personnel with necessary burial forms and other supplies, and the time permitted to effect the burials:

a) Battlefield burials in active areas. In active areas battlefield burials are imperative for sanitary reasons and for preserving morale where advance lines are practically stationary. They will be made under most hazardous conditions - usually at night - and a shallow grave with a light covering of earth must suffice. One or two men may constitute the burial party. There will be no time to search the body, to remove personal effects, or to verify and dispose of tags. A stick, or large rock, or a bayonet with a helmet superimposed will be used to indicate the grave of a soldier. There will be no records of burials and no grave location, but some sufficient marker must be found or devised to mark the spot definitely, so that burial parties of the graves registration personnel will subsequently locate the body and make proper burial, complying with the requirements pertaining to tags, personal effects, reports, records, ect. These burials, however, will in most instances be made by order of the unit or higher commander; there may be no graves registration personnel available and the burial parties will not be equipped with the prescribed burial reports forms, grave markers, safety pins, burial bottles, ect. The task of the burial party will be one of expeditious accomplishment but the necessity of locating all dead in the particular area, obtaining and maintaining individual identifications, grave locations and records pertaining thereto and the securing of all personal effects from the body and placing them in the possession of the officer or non-commissioned officer in charge of the burial detail will in no way be disregarded or slighted. In order to assure that, in these hasty burials, essential requirements are observed and basic records obtained, it is absolutely necessary that chaplains, company officers, non-commissioned officers, and all other personnel who are or may be engaged in this dangerous, serious, and solemn duty be thoroughly informed of accuracy in records and identification, the proper disposition of identification tags, and the placement of well embedded, substantial grave markers. In making these burials, shallow trenches,  shell craters, and other ground identations will be utilized. Time may not permit fixed depths, spacings and alignment. It should be understood that graves registration or other units will subsequently rework these hasty burials and concentrate them into established temporary cemeteries. This fact will account for the physical appearance of the burial plots but in no way will permit laxity or carelessness in observing the fundamental burial requirements.

b) Battlefield burials during forward movement. Battlefield burials in immediate areas where hostile activities are diminishing and forward movement continues would in most instances pertain to the dead who have fallen on the field of battle and, whose remains, due to the forward movement of the battle and lack of personnel and time for burial purposes, have been left on the battlefield. They may have been there for one or more days until troop Graves Registration Service, or other service units can be assigned to bury these dead. Temporary cemeteries will be located and the dead brought in by hand litters and motor transportation. Searching parties should cover the immediate terrain thoroughly in an effort to locate all bodies. Graves will be dug and requirements for depth, spacing and alignment observed. Graves registration personnel may be present to supervise the burials and obtain complete records of same. If not, a qualified officer will be assigned as burial officer and it will be his responsibility to collect all required data pertaining to the individual bodies, to assign and record grave locations, to receive all personal effects and inventories thereof and to obtain full compliance with all burial requirements. Some of these graves may contain bodies buried hastily, as described in  a) above. If time permits, it would be sound policy to concentrate at this time all isolated and group burials ( less than 12 ) that are accessible to the burial party and its newly established cemeteries. However, the burial data for those reburied cases should be maintained in sequence so that the history for each individual case will be complete. These newly established cemeteries will, in general, remain until final disposition of oversea dead is determined. Their operations, maintenance and control will become a function of the Graves Registration Service.

c) Burials at or near hospitals in the theater of operations. Cemeteries are or will be established in the vicinity of hospitals in practically all instances and will be readily accessible by ambulances or other motor transportation. The burial forms, disposition of personal effects and full compliance with all burial requirements should offer no unusual difficulty. There should be a graves registration representative available to supervise the burials and the accomplishment of burial records. If not, a chaplain, medical administration corps officer, or some other officer should be designated as a burial officer. 

d) Burials at large installations. Cemeteries will be in locations accessible to ports, base, convalescent and general hospitals, depots, and railheads in the theater of operations. The availability of rail and motor facilities will permit transporting bodies for burial from extended areas in the rear of the active zones so that the number of cemeteries may be held to the minimum. Furthermore, in selection of location, accessibility to ports or railroad lines should be considered with a view to facilitating subsequent exhumation operations and the return of the dead to the  United States.

REMOVAL OF DEAD
a) Unburied dead should be removed as rapidly as possible and buried. This removal should be done in a most considerate manner and with the least confusion in order to sustain the morale of the troops. Bodies should be covered, especially if they are mangled or in an unpresentable condition, when carried or transported to the cemetery or other place of interment. Routes should avoid contact with troops as much as possible, and places of interments should be screened from roads if the situation permits. The removal should be accomplished with a reverent attitude toward the dead, and any tendency toward improper handling of bodies should be corrected immediately. The removal of the wounded is the task of the Medical Department and troops detailed for that purpose. In all cases the bodies should be wrapped in blankets, mattress covers, or shelter-halves before burial, if possible. When burials are made by company commanders they will, as soon as possible, report the facts to the Graves Registration Service personnel operating in the sector, giving complete location and personal data on each case, and adding thereto such brief memoranda as will enable Graves Registration Service to maintain complete history and records of the burials.

b) The officer or noncommissioned officer in charge of the burial detail, in the absence of chaplains and Graves Registration Service personnel, will follow the prescribed regulations as to the manner and place of burial, and forward the prescribed reports to the nearest Graves Registration Service unit headquarters, or commanding officer of the area in which the burial is made, who will cause the proper records to be made and transmit them to the graves registration officer of the sector concerned. In addition, the organization commander of the deceased will be notified of the burial. In all cases, where possible, a chaplain of the faith of the deceased will perform the burial rites.

c) When it is necessary for personnel other than Graves Registration Service to accomplish the burial, a noncommissioned officer or well-qualified private of the Medical Department should accompany the burial party on the field of battle and prepare the WD MD Form 52b ( Emergency Medical Tag ) for each body not previously so tagged.

d) The final and complete systematic search for bodies will be made as soon as the area is free from hostile fire action by Graves Registration Service units assigned to the area. up to that time the dead will have been found, for the most part, at the location of the company, battalion, and regimental aid stations, the collecting stations and the clearing stations.

e) Careful searches will be made of battlefields to insure that burial of the dead and registration of graves have not been overlooked. Unburied dead will, if possible, be buried in the nearest established cemetery. Unmarked graves will be marked temporarily so that they can be relocated easily, and will be reported to the graves registration officer concerned, who will take immediate action toward identification, and will either remove the body to an established cemetery or so mark, register and fence the grave that the body therein may be disposed of properly at a suitable time.

f) Battlefield burials will necessarily be made hastily, and quite often under fire. As a consequence, the grave markings will be temporary and the location of the burial places frequently unsuitable. The Graves Registration Service is responsible for reburials and concentrations thereafter made to provide proper disposition of these hasty battlefield burials.

g) At best, a human body is not particularly conspicuous on a modern battlefield, among trenches, shell craters, and resulting debris, stretching beyond the limits of vision. The clothing which is intended to make a man inconspicuous in life does likewise in death. Moreover, men are instructed and instinct prompts them to take advantage of every available means of shelter and concealment. Men conceal themselves behind banks, mounds, hedges, rocks, trees, fallen logs, arbors, in ruined buildings, or in any place offering the slightest degree of protection. Self-preservation is the first law of nature, and these actions spring from no lack of bravery - rather they are the result of the calm courage of good judgment and training.

h) In search for bodies great care should be used to avoid booby traps, and anti-personnel mines which may have been placed under bodies by enemy forces.

DISPOSITION OF ORIGINAL EMERGENCY MEDICAL TAGS, WD MD FORM 52b. The emergency medical tag attached to the bodies of the sick or of those killed in action, including those prepared by any medical department personnel accompanying the burial party, will be removed at the time of interment either by the medical department representative or by a responsible member of the burial party and will be forwarded in either case direct to the Chief Surgeon, who will transmit them, after they have been used for any necessary purpose in his office, to The Surgeon General. The wire will be removed from the medical tag before forwarding. Carbon copies of the emergency tag will be assembled and utilized by the senior medical officer of each unit to compile for the organization commander such daily list of casualties as may be required in preparing or checking his reports.

WD MD FORM 52b

ATTACHED MEDICAL PERSONNEL. The medical personnel attached to the graves registration company are not intended for use in treating the wounded or in performing other functions of the Medical Department in the combat zone. Their function is to assist graves registration personnel in the establishment of cause and certainty of death and in the identification of the dead by means of technical inspections and notations. Their basic training has fitted them for the rapid and accurate execution of this task. They are familiar with medical terminology and to some extent with anatomical details. Inasmuch as the disposition of graves registration personnel for operations is somewhat similar to that of the Medical Department in the collection of the wounded, the medical personnel attached to graves registration units will serve as technical contact men with medical personnel performing their usual duties, Close coordination at this point will facilitate the separation of the dead from the wounded and the rapid burial of the former.

DISPOSITION OF IDENTIFICATION TAGS. One of the two identification tags worn as prescribed in Army Regulations will be attached to the remains when interred. This includes any and all interments in the theater of operations - the first battlefield interment, as well as the interment into a temporary cemetery for subsequent, final disposition.  The duplicate tag will be removed at time of interment and attached securely to the grave marker about 2 inches from the top.

UNKNOWN INTERMENTS.
a) A complete set of fingerprints ( all 10 fingers ) should be made on the report of interment, if possible, tooth charts, notation of anatomical characteristics and results of inspection of the body for other identifying media should be properly made or noted. No remains should be interred as Unknowns until every available means of identification has been exhausted. In battlefield burials, when identification tags are missing, identification should be made by members of the organization of the deceased. Positive identification  obtained by these or other means should be made of record and a copy of same placed in a canteen, bottle or other container and buried with the body. When the absence of identification tags prevents positive identification by this means, members of the units, engaged in the area where the casualties have occurred, may take personal identification. The name, rank, and serial number of the officers or soldiers making the personal identification, and the date, should be noted on all burial records pertaining thereto.

b) Identification of unknown. When bodies cannot be identified immediately, in order to obtain uniformity in the method and procedures to be followed in the burial of such unknowns so that every possible means may be taken toward determining their identity, the following procedures will govern:

(1) Group burials.
(a) In cases of group casualties either in airplane crashes or burned tanks, where individual identities were completely lost and only group identities could be determined by organizational lists showing the crew complement of the airplane or tank at the take-off or commencement of action, it has been possible occasionally to separate and preserve the individual remains of one or more and, in some instances, all the members of the crew. When identification tags or other positive means of identification are found upon the individual remains, the particular case offers no complication or doubt as to identity and this case will be buried in the prescribed manner. When individual cases have all evidence of identification completely destroyed by fire or otherwise these bodies should be definitely marked Unknown x-6, x-7 ect., the numeral assigned to the first body being the next serial number to the last Unknown X- ( Number ) remains already buried in the temporary cemetery where these remains are to be interred. The grave likewise will be so marked that the remains will have a definite grave location. The importance of obtaining fingerprints and affixing the proper X- ( Number ) to the remains, with name of cemetery and pertaining grave location noted on the report of burial will permit further identification by the Office of The Quartermaster General with every possibility of eventually determining conclusive identity.

(b) In those cases where the remains of a crew or a certain number of its members are so consumed by fire,  torn apart and scattered by explosive action, or mingled together so as to prevent segregation of individual remains, skulls with such anatomical parts which may be adhering to them or can positively be established as pertaining to them should be regarded as individual cases and buried in separate graves. These graves will be marked and recorded as Unknowns X- (Number), the number assigned being in accordance with the method prescribed in (a). Subsequent exhumation for identification purposes will permit in many cases preparation of complete tooth charts which, because of the small number of bodies in which possible identification is confined, should give much assurance of conclusive identifications.

(c) In those instances where it is absolutely impossible to segregate bodies in whole, or in part, offering possibility of subsequent identification, all recoverable remains will be gathered and buried in a single grave. the burial record will show the action taken and the names of the crew complement, if available. All identifying numbers on the airplane or tank, if available, should also be recorded thereon. The same information will be recorded on the grave marked by embossed plates and will also be placed on the burial bottle record.

(2) Individual unknowns.
(a)
Unknowns, such as water casualties eventually washed ashore, where all possible evidence of identification, have been lost due to prolonged immersion, decomposition and other causes, should when recovered be given an X- (Number) designation in accordance with instructions contained in (1a) above.   

(b) In those cases where the complete dental chart can be obtained without mutilation of the jaws, this should be accomplished and a copy of the chart submitted to The Quartermaster General, together with such other information as to organization in action in this particular area at possible time of death, and other pertinent facts that might off clues to identity.

IDENTIFICATION AND INTERMENT.
a) Identification is an important function of personnel at every point down the route of evacuation, beginning with collecting identifying media by the graves registration personnel, through the actual identification. If identification is not at once possible, fingerprints of all 10 fingers and complete dental charts should be taken. This will facilitate identification later. The fingerprint files of the Adjutant General's Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are based on mathematical formulae which require a complete set of thumbprints and fingerprints from both hands of the individual. With a complete set of both hands of the deceased person, these agencies are able to localize the search to the perusal of less than two hundred individual files. If, however, it is impossible to obtain a complete set, imprints should be made of any fingers or thumbs which will give a legible impression. When the bodies have been brought to the place of burial, the burial officer or his assistants should search them carefully to make sure that nothing of value or interest to those at home is buried. Careful and renewed search of pockets will often bring to light letters and cards that have been overlooked. If organization is known it may be possible to call some of the men of the same company who may personally identify the body or will have knowledge of effects found on the body and attribute same to a known member of the organization. After the bodies have been identified or are ready for interment they should be wrapped in blankets, mattress covers, or shelter-halves, which are fastened securely with safety pins (horse blanket size).  The number of pins to be used is left to the discretion of the Graves Registration Service burial officer and will vary with individual cases. However, after all has been done, if some bodies remain nameless they should be buried in separate graves. these bodies will be designated Unknown X-1, Unknown X-2 and so on in numerical sequence for all unidentified bodies in the burial plots or cemetery. The records pertaining to these bodies will be similarly marked so that in subsequent disinterment for identification or concentration, the designation thus established will be preserved and identification research narrowed down.

b) In tanking the fingerprints of a deceased person the first important matter is to cleanse the fingers either with soap and water or the cleaning fluid in the kit. The operator, standing just at the back of the shoulders, and with his left hand, lifts the arm of the deceased person as thought extending it above the head. This movement automatically extends the fingers. While holding the arm in this position the finger is inked by bringing it in contact with the metal plate which has been prepared (inked with a minimum amount of ink). The fingerprint form which has previously been folded and inserted in the slots of the fingerprint shovel is then firmly gripped and the deceased person's thumbprint pressed in the hollow of the shovel. The same action for all the fingers is repeated. With the fingerprints shovel there is no necessity to roll the fingers as the placing of the finger in the hollow of the shovel gives the rolled impression. Fingerprint equipment must be kept clean and free from dust and the screw cap kept on the tube of ink when not use.

LOST IDENTIFICATION TAGS.
The incidents of combat may cause identification tags to become separated from the person of the soldier. Intermediate offers of the Graves Registration Service should impress upon their subordinates the necessity of endeavoring to "match up"  identification tags found on the battlefield with "Unknowns" or bodies on which are found other evidence of identity, in the area in which the identification tags were found. Inquiry may be made of the unit commanders in the area before proceeding further with the attempt to match up. The search may narrow down to a few unknowns in a particular area, and these lost tags, by the process of elimination, ultimately, may be restored to the soldiers or the bodies to which they belong. Every means should be exhausted to accomplish this in the area in which the tags have been found before forwarding the tags to higher authority.  If all such efforts have been unsuccessful, the tags should be forwarded to headquarters, Graves Registration Service of the theater of operations concerned, with a sketch of the location where found, and a factual statement of units and organizations represented by known dead recovered and buried in this particular area, and such other information which might confine the research for identification to a minimum group of missing in action possibilities. This headquarters will the endeavor to match up these tags with the burial  reports of unknowns by using the anatomical characteristics of the deceased reported at time of burial as the main foundation of inquiry and the lost identification tag as secondary medium.

DISPOSITION OF IDENTIFICATION TAG WHEN NO MARKER IS AVAILABLE.
In many cases where the erection of a marker is temporarily impracticable, the identification tag ( to be attached to the marker when available ) should be placed in a bottle, or if a bottle is not obtainable, it the most practicable container available, and buried six inches below the surface of the ground, centered at the head of the grave. A protruding stake or peg should be driven at least 18" in the ground to indicate the position where the grave marker will be subsequently placed so there will be no question as to whom the grave belongs. If one tag is missing, the remaining tag will be buried with the body and the marker, marked with the name, grade and Army serial number until a substitute tag is made. If additional or substitute tags are made they should be marked as such. If there is no tag ( both identification tags being missing ), all available identifying data should be recorded on two slips of paper, each placed in a separate bottle or other container as described above, one bottle buried with the remains and the other placed in the ground at the head of the grave. The information contained in the bottle at the head of the grave is later reproduced on a metal label by means of an embossing machine and attached to the marker by personnel of the Graves Registration Service. Each label has a capacity of five lines of type, and will be embossed as follows:       

  First line: Name of wearer ( first name, middle initial, last name)
  Second line: Army serial number
  Third line: Rank and organization
  Fourth line: Date of death, faith ( P for Protestant, C for Catholic, H for Hebrew )
  Fifth line: Grave location ( section, row and grave number )

ENEMY DEAD
a) There will be established in the central records office, Provost Marshall General's Office, the Prisoner of War Information Bureau prescribed by the Geneva Convention. While the Graves Registration Service will maintain the same records on the enemy dead as on American troops, information on Americans will be transmitted directly by the Graves registration Service to The Quartermaster General and information concerning enemy dead must be handled through the Prisoner of War Information Bureau.  To this end, it is brought to the attention of all concerned that insofar as identification on a dead enemy soldier the following procedure is followed:

(1) One half of the tag remains on the body and is buried with it.

(2)
The information on the other half is copied (with the aid of an interpreter or a translation sheet ) in English characters and either written in plain block letters by means of lead pencil, not indelible pencil or fountain pen - on the marker, or the information placed in a similar container as provided for the graves of American dead, and placed in the earth near the head of the grave. If the information is written on the marker, the marker is placed in the grave at a forward angle of 45 degrees in order that the information will not be subject to obliteration by the elements. The same procedure will be followed in marking these graves with metal label by means of an embossing machine as those of the American dead.

(3)
The duplicate or other half of the identification tag is then forwarded to the Prisoner of War Information Bureau through channels prescribed by the commanding general of the forces in the field.

(4)
Documents found on enemy dead, will be used for the identification measures prescribed, in the absence of identification tags on the dead, and will then be disposed of in accordance with regulations dealing with documents found on the enemy.

(5)
The procedures above assume that enemy dead will be wearing either two tags or a tag which can be broken in half like the German type. Where only one tag is worn, graves registration personnel are confronted with a more difficult task. The requirements are clear that at least one tag or half of one tag be forwarded to the Prisoner of War Information Bureau. Under these circumstances the tag will be removed from the body and forwarded to the Prisoner of War Information Bureau. However, before the tag is removed, the characters thereon will be copied on a piece of paper and placed in a bottle, the bottle is then inserted in the clothing of the soldier. The same information is reproduced, with the aid of an interpreter or a translation sheet, in English characters and written in block letters on the marker. if time permits, the sheet to be placed in the bottle will likewise be translated into English.  

b) Rules for burial enemy dead. Enemy dead will be buried in separate sections apart from regular burial sites of members of the American or allied armies within the cemetery. Such graves will be properly marked and registered and will remain the custody of and be cared for by the Quartermaster Corps. A metal tag marked "ED" ( Enemy Dead ) will be attached to the temporary grave marker. 

ISOLATED BURIALS.
a) When death occurs during an action, the remains of the individual soldier will be buried at or near the place of death, until further disposition becomes practicable.

b) Concentration
(1) Efforts will be made on the part of all concerned to avoid isolated interments. Every isolated burial renders likely the loss of a soldier's body and makes registration and maintenance of the grave difficult.

(2) Groups of less than 12 graves will be considered as isolated burials. Circumstances and surrounding conditions will determine whether the remains are to be removed at once to an established cemetery or marked, registered, reported and properly safeguarded.  

(3) Groups of 12 or more graves should be established, marked, registered, and reported as a cemetery. These bodies should not be removed unless the location is unsuitable, or subsequent concentrations are decided to facilitate the maintenance of these graves or the exhumation operations for returning the dead to the United States.  

 

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