“For Us the Living”: How America Buried its World War I Overseas Dead

Tracy Fisher

Advisor: Alison Landsberg, PhD, Department of History and Art History

Committee Members: Christopher Hamner, Michael O'Malley, Meredith Lair

Merten Hall, #1203
March 28, 2016, 10:00 AM to 08:00 AM


After the World War ended in 1918, a national political debate arose in the United States over where to bury the war dead:  some Americans believed the nation’s war dead should be left overseas in permanent cemeteries to create an enduring tie between the United States and Europe, while many others wanted the dead returned to the United States for burial.  As months passed without a final decision on where and how the dead would be buried, the families of the war dead increasingly became forceful advocates for their own views and choices, both publically and in their individual correspondence with the War Department.  This dissertation makes extensive use of the correspondence between the families of the dead and the War Department, including thousands of personal letters from families and replies from the Department directed to those individual concerns.  These letters demonstrate that as families wrote to the War Department to explain their views, make demands, provide instructions, or ask for help, their efforts substantially affected both the way that War Department policies about the war dead evolved and the amount of time and resources that the War Department dedicated to dealing with requests from families.  This dissertation looks briefly at the public debate before focusing in detail on the issues raised by families as they decided where they wanted their dead buried.  This dissertation is meant to recover the impassioned voices of Americans from all over the country and from all levels of society who lost a family member in the war and to trace the origins of America’s continuing policy of allowing families to determine where the war dead will be buried.