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Flanders Field American Cemetery in Waregem

Flanders Field American Cemetery in Waregem

Flanders Field American Cemetery
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In Waregem we have the American Cemetery. This is the smallest of 8 permanent American cemeteries commemorating the First World War in Europe. It is also the only one in Belgium. After the war, the U.S.A., contrary to their British counterparts, allowed the repatriation of their war dead by request of their next of kin. Others wished that their loved ones remained in Europe. That is why in 1919 the American War Department commenced establishing permanent cemeteries: six in France, one in England and one in Belgium.

Flanders Field American Cemetery has 368 graves. Of most of these Americans, Christopher Sims (the cemetery associate) and Patrick Lernout have written their life story. They did extensive research in different American Archives and eventually also succeeded in contacting many of the next of kin. The established links provided photographs of these soldiers so that many names now have a face with a short story to tell. Now that in the last few years more focus is laid on the social aspects of history, we find it an exceptional opportunity to inform the public on the fascinating background of these brave men who died and are buried in Waregem.

Every year since 1922, the Memorial Day ceremony has been held at the Flanders Field cemetery attracting hundreds of visitors. The tradition of Memorial day goes back to the days of the American Civil War (1861-1865) when the idea arose to commemorate the fallen of both sides on the same day. After World War I, the American Overseas Memorial Day Association was established to commemorate all those buried overseas. This organization continues to coordinate the ceremonies in Belgium to this day.

During every ceremony there is a flyover with fighter aircraft performing the Missing Man Formation. In 1927 there was a special flyover at Flanders Field American Cemetery. Charles Lindbergh, just 9 days after his solo trans-Atlantic flight, paid tribute to his fallen countrymen by dropping a bouquet of flowers on the ceremonies being held below. The flowers were wrapped in the airmen’s silk scarf. This scarf is still safely kept in storage in Waregem.

However, the Memorial Day ceremony in Waregem has something very unique. During these annual celebrations in Waregem we received the U.S. Ambassador to Belgium, a Representative of His Majesty the King and many other VIP’s. Waregem has succeeded in making this event a special tradition. At no other American cemetery can we see the local population being so closely involved with Memorial Day. Only at the ceremony in Waregem there is a major participation by the local community in providing the ‘singing school children’. It has been a standing tradition for over 80 years that the school children of Waregem sing the “Star Spangled Banner”. A tear jerking moment for all those present. Many generations feel a special bond with the cemetery and return to the ceremonies each year.

Monuments were also erected in Kemmel and Oudenaarde in recognition of the American achievements during the First World War. These inauguration ceremonies took place on 8 August 1937.

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