Smallest of the permanent American military cemeteries on the European continent, Flanders Field American Cemetery occupies six acres. It was dedicated on August 8, 1937, and is the only American World War I cemetery in Belgium. The use of the land on which it rests has been granted by the Belgian government free of charge or taxation in perpetuity, as an expression of its gratitude to the United States. The cemetery commemorates the accomplishments and sacrifice of those Americans who participated in the Ypres-Lys Campaign. 368 of those who perished are interred at the cemetery, while 43 are commemorated on the Tablets of the Missing.
The Visitor Center
Just to the left of the cemetery’s entrance lies the visitor center. Here visitors can rest or obtain information from the cemetery staff. A register is maintained at the building, and all visitors are encouraged to sign it before leaving the cemetery. Burial locations and memorialization sites from all the overseas American military cemeteries from World War I and World War II, as well as additional information concerning overseas cemeteries and local history, may be obtained from the cemetery staff.
The flagpole is located directly across the gravel pathway from the visitor building, to the right of the cemetery’s entrance gate. The American flag flies daily from this 50-foot flagpole designed by Egerton Swartwout of New York City. The pole’s bronze base is decorated with reliefs of acanthus leaves, seashells, butterflies, oak leaves, and acorns with a circle of poppies at the point where the staff meets the base. This ornamental cast was created by Susse Frères of Paris, France.
In March 1925 the Quartermaster General of the U.S. Army solicited bids on headstones of white stone or marble for designs created by Paul Cret and recommended by the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC). After consideration the ABMC accepted Carrara marble for the headstones. This material was used widely from ancient Rome through the Renaissance; notable examples of art and architecture fabricated from Carrara marble include Michelangelo’s David and the Pantheon in Rome. It is quarried in northernmost Tuscany, Italy.
Carrara marble is stark white with dark veins. This marble was chosen because of its resemblance to the cemetery’s temporary wooden headstones, which were painted white. Carrara marble also fits the overall design of the cemetery, evoking classicism and connections to the philosophical foundations of American democracy. Cret wished to embody these influences in this and other architectural decisions.
The Memorial Chapel
At the center of the cemetery is a small non-denominational memorial chapel constructed of white Pouillenay stone. Above the bronze entrance door is engraved, “GREET THEM EVER WITH GRATEFUL HEARTS,” to remind visitors that those buried and memorialized at Flanders Field American Cemetery died for their freedom.
On three of the outer walls is a dedicatory inscription in French, Flemish and English: THIS CHAPEL HAS BEEN ERECTED BY THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA IN MEMORY OF HER SOLDIERS WHO FOUGHT AND DIED IN BELGIUM DURING THE WORLD WAR. THESE GRAVES ARE THE PERMANENT AND VISIBLE SYMBOL OF THE HEROIC DEVOTION WITH WHICH THEY GAVE THEIR LIVES TO THE COMMON CAUSE OF HUMANITY.
Beneath the three versions of the inscription are bas-relief figures symbolizing Grief, Remembrance and History.
Inside the chapel, lies a beautiful altar of grand antique marble. On the front of the altar an inscription reads: I WILL RANSOM THEM FROM THE POWER OF THE GRAVE, I WILL REDEEM THEM FROM DEATH (Hosea, XIII:14). On either side of the altar are bronze candelabra and flagstaffs supporting flags of the United States, Belgium, France, Italy and Great Britain.
The furniture of the chapel was constructed from carved oak, stained black with veining in white to accent the grand antique marble of the altar.
On the interior side walls of the chapel are panels of rose St. George marble surrounded in bronze molding. These panels carry the names of 43 American soldiers who lost their lives liberating Belgium whose remains were not recovered.
One of the most decorative aspects of the memorial chapel is the beautiful mosaic ceiling. The mosaic depicts a lighted oil lamp under the stars of Heaven, in the center of the ceiling, with doves representing peace flying toward the light.
Greenery is an important aspect of Flanders Field American Cemetery. Visitors can enjoy the beautiful sunken garden surrounding the memorial chapel and three small gardens at the north, east, and south corners of the cemetery. These secluded small gardens are enclosed with trees and contain a decorative urn on a pedestal and stone benches. Here visitors can sit and reflect.
In addition to in the gardens, there are beautiful plantings throughout the cemetery. The gravel pathway leading from the entrance gate to the square-sunken garden is lined with linden trees. Behind these linden trees, are more trees and shrubs of birch, ash, rhododendron, lilac, oak, elm, azalea, holly, maple, spirea, osmanthus magnolia, hydrangea and Japanese prune.