Attend the Memorial Day Ceremony at
Flanders Field American Cemetery
May 28, 2017, 3 pm
The Flanders Field American Cemetery is the final resting place of 368 American servicemen. The graves of 21 of these are marked with crosses and a Star of David that read "Here Rests in Honored Glory A Comrade in Arms Known But To God." Inside the chapel, a wall records the name of 43 American soldiers who sleep in unknown graves. The soldiers served in four US Army Divisions that fought in Belgium during World War I: the 27th "New York" Division, the 30th "Old Hickory Division" from Tennessee, the 37th "Buckeye Division" from Ohio, and the 91st "Wild West" Division whose soldiers came from California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
When compared with the other two cemeteries in Belgium, Flanders Field has several unique features. First, it is a battlefield cemetery, which means that it is actually located on a battlefield where the 91st Division suffered many casualties in securing the wooded area called "Spitaals Bosschen" a few hundred meters to its east. Second, it is the smallest of the American military cemeteries in Europe, which gives it a more intimate feel. Third, it contains the grave of one of America's first naval aviators, whose brother was a Pulitzer Prize winning poet.
Like the cemetery itself, the ceremony at Flanders Field has several unique features. On 3 June 1923, the then brand-new American Overseas Memorial Day Association organized the first Memorial Day Ceremony at the cemetery, making it the oldest ceremony in Belgium. General John "Blackjack" Pershing was in attendance in 1923, and he attended almost all of the ceremonies at Flanders Field throughout the 1920s. During the ceremony on 30 May 1927, Charles Lindberg flew over the cemetery and dropped poppies from his aircraft in a salute to his countrymen. The ceremony also has a long tradition of a high degree of youth participation. In a tradition that began with the first ceremony in 1923, local Flemish school children, who do not speak English, learn the American National Anthem at school and sing it at the ceremonies. In 2010, they included the Belgian National Anthem as well, and this new tradition will likewise carry on into the future. In a tradition that started in the 1980s, a high school student from one of the international schools reads John McCrae's famous poem, In Flanders Field.
From the very beginning, AOMDA and the ceremony at the Flanders Field cemetery have enjoyed very strong support from the Community of Waregem. The city holds a wreath laying ceremony at the war monument in Waregem before the ceremony, and a reception following the ceremony for invited participants. Each year, AOMDA visits three schools in Waregem with a serving member of the American armed forces to talk with the children about the meaning of Remembrance. Waregem also participated in AOMDA's first youth outreach program in 2008.