The Oise-Aisne American Cemetery is on land granted in perpetuity to the United States by the people of France, as a cemetery to the fallen American soldiers, marines, sailors, and civilians who died in various engagements throughout this region during World War I.
Since 1934, the American Battle Monuments Commission has been responsible for the maintenance and daily operations of this monument and cemetery. To appreciate why this area was selected for a cemetery it is important to understand the history of The Great War in this vicinity.
Why were American fighting units here? How were they involved? What were some of the units? And in what manner were the deceased interred.
In 1917, Russia withdrew from the war due to their revolution. This released 50 German Divisions to be redeployed at the Western Front. The Germans realized that they needed to defeat the Allies before the arrival of overwhelming American forces and material resources. In March 1918, Germany launched their Spring Offensive with devastating attacks in Belgium and here in France, on their quest for Paris.
Their rapid-moving assault, new weapons and tactics overwhelmed the Allies, forcing a retreat, leaving openings in the line. The blitz advanced to the Marne River but failed to make a decisive breakthrough beyond, in part because their storm troops could not carry enough ammunition and supplies to sustain the onslaught.
The invasion stalled by mid-July. It was then that French General Ferdinand Foch ordered a counter-offensive, which became known as the Second Battle of the Marne. Fresh American troops sped to support their allies. The 2nd and 3rd Divisions raced to close the holes in the front. Soon, the American 26th, 28th, and 42nd Divisions, as well as several regiments joined the fight.
The battle involved tanks, bombers, poison gas attacks, aircraft-directed artillery, storm troops, snipers, and hand- to-hand combat. Ten United States Divisions took part in what was to become a turning point of the war.
The Spring Offensive was the last important German invasion of the war, and the Second Battle of the Marne became the Allies’ first victorious offensive of 1918. This Memorial honors the American men and women who served and supported this battle, and the more than 6,000 casualties.
At the end of the war, deceased soldiers, marines, sailors, and those who served in civilian capacities were buried near here in small interim burial plots. The idea of leaving a loved one overseas was wrenching for families. In 1919, the temporary cemeteries were closed, and the families of the fallen were given three choices for the remains of their loved ones. They could repatriate them to the United States, or recent immigrants could be returned to their country of origin. Or, the family could choose to leave their beloved interred in an American cemetery in Europe.
Once repatriations of 60% of the bodies were completed, and permanent cemeteries like Oise-Aisne were created, the American government turned its attention to give appropriate care and attention to the families of the fallen. In 1923, the American Battle Monuments Commission was created to honor, in perpetuity, the courage, competence, and sacrifice of the American men and women who died during America’s overseas actions. Under certain conditions, grieving mothers and widows qualified for the newly created “Gold Star” Program. From 1930 to 1933, the government covered the costs of bringing mothers and widows here and to other cemeteries in the region to visit the graves of their fallen loved ones.
The Oise-Aisne American Cemetery was established in August 1918. It was founded on the ground liberated by the 42nd Infantry Division in July 1918 during the Second Battle of the Marne. The headstones are uniform in size, and random in rank and order, symbolic of the equal status of all people dedicated to the service of our nation.
It was architect Ralph Adams Cram who designed this pink and gray sandstone Romanesque memorial. He meant it to be in peaceful harmony with the landscape and cemetery. Its semi-circular form provides a view of the cemetery and surrounding countryside. High on each front wall is a frieze displaying a shield with the insignia of each of the branches of the Army. Below each frieze is the United States’ Coat of Arms. In the four medallions above the center columns, the modern soldier is contrasted with a medieval Crusader.
An altar of Algerian onyx is inset with two panels of Rocheret Jaune marble. Engraved on the wall are the names of 241 American soldiers missing from the Oise-Aisne and Aisne-Marne offensives.
To the right of the monument is the Map Room, detailing the advance of American Expeditionary Forces that fought during the Oise-Aisne Offensive. The chapel was completed in 1930.