White marble headstones dot 639 acres of emerald slopes sprawling just north of the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. Home to approximately 400,000 American veterans, Arlington National Cemetery is visited annually by more than 3 million people. But Arlington is just one of many final resting places for American service members: Nearly 130,000 American war dead lie buried on foreign soil.
The American Battle Monuments Commission maintains 26 American cemeteries and 32 federal memorials scattered across 17 foreign countries. Those buried on foreign soil in American cemeteries around the world were killed in action in wars spanning the Mexican-American War to the Korean War, and some of America’s most famous military heroes rest among them.
In Luxembourg, 17 acres of marble crosses and Stars of David mark the graves of 5,070 US Army soldiers, most of whom were killed during the Battle of the Bulge. An additional 371 names are inscribed on two pylons, representing soldiers listed as missing in action. Among the veterans of the battle buried in that remote corner of Europe is Gen. George S. Patton, commander of the 3rd US Army during World War II.
More than 400 miles to the west, America’s most-visited foreign military cemetery overlooks Omaha Beach. Established two days after the D-Day landings, the Normandy American Cemetery was the first cemetery for US troops built on European soil in World War II. Three Medal of Honor recipients are buried there, including President Theodore Roosevelt’s son, Brig. Gen. Ted Roosevelt Jr., who died in France a month after landing on Utah Beach. The Niland brothers — whose story inspired Saving Private Ryan — are also buried there.
The biggest American military cemetery in Europe, however, honors soldiers killed in the first World War. The Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France is home to the remains of 14,246 military heroes, most giving the last full measure of devotion during the Meuse-Argonne offensive of World War I, the bloodiest battle in US military history. Around 26,000 Americans total died during the battle, which lasted 47 days and ended with the armistice that concluded the war on Nov. 11, 1918.
In a small patch of France lies the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial Cemetery. The 11-acre cemetery contains members of the Lafayette Flying Corps, a unit of Americans who volunteered to fly with the French Air Service in World War I. Among those buried there is Lt. Frank Baylies, an American fighter ace credited with 12 victories. On June 17, 1918, Baylies was shot down by a German triplane. He is among 51 other Americans who flew for the French military during the war and are now buried in Lafayette Escadrille.
The largest overseas American military cemetery rests halfway around the world in the Philippines. The Manila American Cemetery is home to 16,859 soldiers killed in World War II, mostly during the fighting for New Guinea and the Philippines. An additional 36,286 names of missing service members are inscribed on limestone tablets.
Walking the seemingly endless rows of headstones in Arlington National Cemetery is a humbling reminder of the sacrifices made by so many Americans to preserve our national interests and our way of life. The magnitude is too great to comprehend and the number too high to count. Their sacrifice becomes even more incomprehensible when one considers the additional 130,000 service members who never made it back to the country they fought for, and are now buried in the far corners of the world across Europe, Asia, Africa, and Central America.