As an alternative to repatriation of American war dead from World War I, the United States War Department decided to create permanent military cemeteries in Europe.
Congress created the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) in 1923 to manage the proliferation of private monuments overseas. It was not long, however, before the ABMC was assigned the task of overseeing the construction and maintenance of the cemeteries, monuments, and chapels. The sites for the monuments and cemeteries were located by 1925, and the ABMC turned its attention to acquiring designs for its chapels. Responsibility for maintenance of the overseas cemeteries was transferred to the ABMC in 1932.
The ABMC expected the chapels to heighten the impressiveness of the cemeteries without detracting from a landscape of graves. The ABMC adopted the Arlington National Cemetery concept which readily accommodated the addition of contemplative spaces.
These buildings were created to offer solace to families of the fallen as they visited cemeteries to remember the sacrifice of their loved ones. The chapels institutionalize the memory and personal sacrifice of the ones lost; and are reminders that the missing and dead are favored by God, honored by their country, and died in a worthy cause.
The enveloping architecture features religious iconography and emphasizes architecture that is based on classic concepts and American ideals, which assured the families of the fallen that they are not alone and that their family members would never be forgotten. Somber, echoing chambers often exhibit the names of the missing, and include the symbols of Divisions, Corps, Armies, American states and territories, as well as military branches of service.
The chapels at the cemeteries maintained by the American Battle Monuments were designed by prominent architects, approved by the Government of the United States, and constructed using American tax dollars.
The commission selected Paul P. Cret, a civic architect with an international reputation, to oversee the designs of chapels and monuments. Cret was an emigrant from France teaching the Ecole des Beaux-Arts method of design at the University of Pennsylvania. He chose five well-known architects to submit their drawings to the commission: Louis Ayres, George Howe, Ralph Adams Cram, Thomas Harlan Ellett, and Charles A. Platt. Each architect was challenged to provide unique designs within the parameters of the commission’s criteria for their site. The result is that each chapel conveys the narrative of people who are buried or commemorated there.