The nation was divided about full citizenship rights for some groups when Congress committed to build an Army to fight overseas. The recruits came from the ranks of volunteers and draftees, many of whom were naturalized citizens recently arrived to the United States. Marginalized groups like African Americans, Native Americans, and women also volunteered for service. The broad make-up of the new military began to reflect an integrated society, even if duties were frequently segregated.
The inscriptions on the headstones, and the symbolic messages on and within the chapel, help visitors understand how the military units brought together people from different nationalities, social and economic backgrounds and parts of the United States, to accomplish various duties. Combining people with diverse histories dampened differences among groups and encouraged the integration of nationalities and gender after the war.
The cemetery and chapel provide opportunities to explore how America worked with Belgium to honor, respect, and remember those who gave their lives in World War I. It was here that American soldiers fought under British or Belgian commanders. The cemetery was dedicated on part of the battlefield. A visitor can easily recognize the special bond that exists between the people of Waregem, Flanders, and the United States.
Paul P. Cret designed this architectural version of Athens’ Temple of the Winds. “Greet them ever with grateful hearts” is the inscription above the entrance to the chapel. The outer walls of the white stone building are engraved in the English, French, and Flemish languages: “This chapel has been erected by the United States of America in memory of her soldiers with 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.” Below this text are the bas-relief sculptured figures: Grief, Remembrance, and History.
The altar inside the chapel is made from black and white marble featuring two flower vases. Above the altar is a carved cross of sacrifice as used by the Commonwealth outlined in gold. Draped on each side are the flags of the United States, Belgium, France, Great Britain, and Italy. The marble panels on the side walls list the names of the soldiers lost in the battle for whom there are no graves. The ceiling is a mosaic, awash in subtle yellow light streaming through a large ornamental window above the door.