US Army Quartermaster Foundation
Fort Lee, Virginia



Erection of Permanent Headstones in the American Military Cemeteries in Europe

By COLONEL FREDERICK W. VAN DUYNE, Q. M. C.
The Quartermaster Review
January-February 1930 

AT the present time there are eight American military cemeteries in Europe. Six are located in areas fought over by the American Expedition­ary Forces, namely: 

Cemeteries

Total Burials

Unknowns

Aisne-Marne  
Location-Belleau Woods

2,270

251

Flanders Field
Location-Waereghern, Belgium

366

19

Meuse-Argonne
Location-Romagne-sous- Montfaucon

14,179

458

Oisne-Aisne
Location-Fer-en-Tardenois

6,010

619

Somme
Location-Bony

1,829

131

.St. Mihiel      
Location-Thiaucourt

4,151

117

   Two cemeteries are located outside the battle area:

The Suresnes Cemetery Location-Suresnes.

1,534

6

The Brookwood Cemetery 
Location-Brookwod, England.

453

42

Total

30,792

1,643

Following the World War, rights in perpetuity were acquired in these cemeteries under authority of joint resolutions of Congress April 1, 1922, and January 2, 1923.  Funds were also appropriated by Congress for developing, landscaping, and maintain­ing these cemeteries. In drawing up the plans for this important work the War Department was assisted by the War Memorial Council and the Fine Arts Commission.  The latter prepared the initial plans for laying out and landscaping these cemeteries. Prior to approval of same, a careful inspection of the sites, with their proposed developments, was made by the Assistant Secretary of War, the General of the Armies, and The Quartermaster General.  Based on all this preliminary work and checking of same, the Secretary of War early in 1922 gave his approval to these plans and directed The Quartermaster General to carry them out.  Under his orders, Mr. George Gibbs and Major H. L. Green, Q. M. C., were sent to Europe, and during the years '22, '23 and '24 put these plans in effect. Up to that time no definite decision had been reached in regard to the permanent headstones which were to replace the wooden crosses then erected over the graves of soldiers buried in Europe. 

The War Memorial Council had as early as 1922 submitted recommendations to the War Department for the adoption of marble headstones similar to those designed for the national cemeteries in the United States.  This recommendation was approved by the War Department.  Prior to its execution, however, opposition to the replacement of the wooden crosses by marble slabs, largely on the part of patriotic organizations, reached a point where the War Department agreed to reconsider the subject.  Certain organizations, particularly the American Legion and the American War Mothers, felt that designs of headstones similar to the wooden cross and the Star of David would be more appropriate in the American cemeteries of Europe than the slab type adopted in the United States.  The cross and the Star of David had already marked American graves in Europe for more than five years, and a strong sentiment to retain these symbols of sacrifice and remembrance had developed. 

At about that time the American Battle Monuments Commission was created by special act of Congress.  The Commission was charged with the construction of battle monuments, and memorial chapels and works of art in the American cemeteries, also the designing, subject to the approval of the Secretary of War, of the permanent headstones for the American cemeteries in Europe.  Among its first undertakings was the careful reconsideration of the designs of these headstones.  Dr. Paul Cret, Consulting Architect of the Commission, was called on to submit to the Commission designs for a Cross and Star of David.  This he did, and his models, after careful study and slight changes, were approved by the American Battle Monuments Commission and the Secretary of War.  Soon thereafter The Quartermaster General was directed by the War Department to procure and erect the marble headstones in the American cemeteries in Europe. 

PROPOSALS AND SPECIFICATIONS 

By 1926 The Quartermaster General had prepared and issued circular proposals and specifications for the procurement of approximately 50% of these crosses and Stars of David.  The specifications called for a fine grade of white marble, durable, of good, uniform texture and strength, free from cracks and defects  and  any  mineral-producing  stains  after weathering.  This marble was to have a minimum bed crushing strength of 10,600 pounds to square inch.  In finishing, all edges were to be cut square, and all exposed surfaces to be fine sand-rubbed. The dimensions, design, etc.. were to conform to the blue print.  The latter showed the cross and star to have a height of approximately 47¼". The cross arm on the cross was 20 7/8". The thickness of the cross was approximately 3½”.  After erection, the top of the cross stood 39" above the ground.  The Star of David was designed with a similar upright but with the Star at the top of the upright in lieu of the cross arm.  The inscription to be placed on each cross included the soldier's name in full, rank, unit, division, state, and date of death, also the customary initials for all decorations that may have been awarded him. The inscription used to mark the graves of unknown soldiers were as follows: 

"Here rests, in honored glory, "An American soldier, "Known but to God." 

While the circular proposal for these marble headstones was issued in the early spring of 1926, final award was not made until December of that year, the successful bidder being Fratelli Tonetti, Pietrasanta, Italy.  A later circular proposal issued the following year resulted in a second award being made Fratelli Tonetti  and  a  new  award made S.  Henraux, Querceta, Italy.  Considerable difficulty arose in preparing the contracts for this work due to the great divergence between American laws and Italian laws on contracts, particularly with reference to hours of labor, age of laborers, and the laws on registration of contracts and special taxes in connection with the completion of contracts. In adjusting these difficulties the writer visited the plants of the contractors and also the office of the American consul at Leghorn, a seaport nearby.  At the latter office assistance in translating the contract and obtaining legal advice on the Italian laws governing the contract were generously furnished.  The Italian government through its Department of Commerce also offered every possible assistance in translating these contracts.  On its rec­ommendation all taxes in connection with registration of contract, export duties, etc. were graciously suspended.  Government officials as well as the contractors showed by their actions that furnishing marble headstones for the graves of their former allies in France was a matter of sentiment as well as business. 

PREPARING THE MARBLE 

At the time these contracts were being prepared, the writer also inspected the various quarries from which the marble was to be obtained.  Both Pietra­santa and Querceta are within or adjacent to the famous Carrarra district.  The quarries lie just west of these towns in the ranges of the Apaune Alps, the altitude of the average quarry being about 3500 feet.  Many of these quarries have been worked for over eight hundred years and are still being worked largely by the methods which were employed when marble for the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the his­torical buildings of Rome were taken from them. In securing a ledge or platform from which quarry operations could be carried on, an initial blast of many pounds of black powder was set off.  This forced a great mass of marble forward and thus gave a quarry floor from which further operations could be conducted. Naturally a large percent of the marble thus detached was squared up into blocks for transportation to the manufacturing plants far below. Additional blocks were cut out by hand method of drilling holes and forcing wedges in same or by use of an endless wire saw.  The latter was electrically driven, and for its cutting qualities depended on a hard sand which is constantly fed into the groove as the wire cuts down through the marble block.  These blocks, averaging from two to ten tons, were assembled on cribs at the edge of the mountain side.  The cribs were formed like huge skies, but were constructed from solid oak 4" to 6" square.  The cribs themselves slid over rough rollers made from small tree trunks. No machinery was employed in handling either the huge rough blocks or the cut blocks at the quarry.  Large hand jacks, however, were used by men who worked in pairs and easily rolled these blocks over by operating the jacks against small notches or rough projections in the marble blocks. 

When approximately ten tons of blocks had been assembled on these cribs at the mountain edge, two cable ropes were attached to same.  These ropes were played out from stakes or winches as the crib and its load slowly slid down the mountain side.  To lower this load approximately 3000 feet required the services of eight laborers six hours.

In transferring the blocks from the crib to the ox cart or railroad, no derrick or hoisting device was employed.  The jack alone was used.  Occasionally a tractor hauled the heavy marble blocks in lieu of ox team.  On finally reaching the marble plants, old methods are replaced by new.  Every modern device for handling, transporting, cutting and shaping marble is found.  The plants of both contractors were models in efficiency and equipment. 

The blocks intended for the American headstones, on reaching such plants, were first carefully examined to see whether or not they might fulfill the specifications for the marble required.  In many instances an accurate determination of the interior of the block could not be obtained from external appearances.  If a block, however, passed this examination, it was placed in line for the first shop operation in connection with its transformation into a cross or Star of David.  This first step required cutting of this five or ten-ton block into marble slabs of approximately 4" thickness to correspond with the thickness of the headstone. These slabs were cut by huge gang saws, with toothless steel blades, which swayed backward and forward, unceasingly, carrying sand and water, and thus slowly grinding their way through the large marble blocks.  These saws cut, on an average, an inch in depth an hour every 24 hours of a day. The water and sand must be so distributed that the steel blade does not burn the marble.  From 20 to 40 parallel blades, all equidistant, cut the block at the same time, and when the operation was finally over, the output for two days incessant sawing was quite remarkable.

The next step in the operation required a careful inspection of the four inch marble slabs to determine whether or not the quality, texture, graining, and strength of the marble would meet specification re­quirements. At this inspection approximately 30% of the slabs were rejected.  The accepted slabs were spread out in the plant and a templet or pattern of the cross or star was placed upon same, with a view of cutting the greatest number of crosses or stars from the slab being worked on.  In placing these templets no part of the design of the cross or star was brought closer than 1½"or 2" to the design of another.  By a crude chisel and hand mallet operation, parts of the slab, containing the several embryo crosses, were roughly hewn apart.  These parts, each containing the marked outline of a cross, were then lifted into a scalpine machine where the sides and ends were squared. 

FINISHING TOUCHES 

The next operation carried them to a machine specially designed for drilling four circular holes at the same time, thus shaping the curved intersection of the cross arms with the upright of the cross.  The cross next passed to carborundum disc saws, which cut the cross arms nearly to the four circular holes and similarly the upright from the top of the cross to the two upper circular holes at the junction of the cross arms. On the same machine the more difficult cutting of the base of the upright was affected.  This difficulty was due to the fact that the large base of the cross prevented the employment of carborundum disc saws cutting directly along the sides of the upright.  The cut was, however, initiated between the base and the upright and carried to near completion against the two circular holes on the lower side of the cross arm. Owing to the pressure developed in employing the drilling and sawing machines, it was impracticable to complete the operation with these machines.  In other words, the four holes could not be bored entirely through the marble or spalling would result. To avoid this danger, the crosses were turned over, and hand or compressed air tools were used to complete the cutting of the outline of the cross. 

The next operation was the rubbing of all surfaces and edges of crosses with fine, dry sand and a block of marble.  The machine to the left, as shown in illustration, is the carborundum disc saw, the four holes having been already partly drilled with diamond drills just prior to that operation. The cross in the center foreground, resting on a small narrow gauge truck, shows its completion so far as machine tools are concerned, the remaining work is done by hand and pneumatic tools. 

Following this fine surface finish a careful inspection by the contractor's foreman was made, after which all surfaces and angles not meeting specifications as to finish, etc. were gone over by expert marble workers who rubbed them with fine sand and. stone pumice.  The stones were then ready for the engravers. Great care was necessary in preparing the tracing of the different inscriptions.  This work was done by the contractor who used a specially manufactured set of "Spacerite."  These letters were easily set up in a form accurately designed to hold same, and a tracing was then secured. Transfer paper was next placed on the cross arm selected for the inscription and the tracing accurately placed over same.  Each engraver, by ruler and freehand, transferred the inscription to the cross.  Prior to this operation, however, the inscription was carefully checked and verified by the inspectors of the contracting officer.  A good engraver could cut from two to three inscriptions daily.   The engraving operation was one of the most difficult the contractor had to contend with, as an error in the lettering or the chipping of centers of such letters as O, R and A caused rejections of the practically completed cross. 

The manufacture of the Star of David differed materially from the crosses.  The design of these Stars of David, together with the much smaller number to made, did not warrant the contractor in purchasing special machines for the work. The base and the upright were cut by methods similar to the cross.  The star itself stood out from the upright a full half inch and this fact, coupled with the design of the star, required slow hand cutting throughout.  The preparation and cutting of inscriptions were also much more difficult than for the crosses-- due to the limited space or inscription on the Star of David. 

The packing and crating of the headstones for truck, rail, and water transportation was very important, as the design of the cross made it very liable damage in shipment.  While the specifications for wrapping, boxing, etc. were very explicit and detailed, experience proved that slight departure from same reduced the breakage enroute.  Under the specifications the cross, after wrapping, was placed flat on the bottom of the box. An experiment was made of placing two small wooden cleats under the upright, one 8” from the top, and the other 8" from the bottom, and two additional cleats of the same thickness about 6” from either end of the cross arm. This experiment proved successful, and the breakage enroute was practically reduced to zero.   Considerable difficulty was had in obtaining seasoned wood.  The marble itself was so sensitive in absorbing stains or colors of any kind that it was found any wood used, not thoroughly seasoned, stained the marble during shipment. 

SUPERVISING THE WORK

In supervising the work of the two contractors, the "Office of the American Graves Registration Service in Europe established an Italian branch at Pietrasanta, Italy.  This office was maintained there for a trifle over two years supervising the production of the marble headstones.  During the first year Captain Daniel J. Canty, Q.M. C., was in charge.  During the second year Captain Robert B. Field, Q. M. C., was assigned. In addition to the commissioned personnel, two marble inspectors, obtained from the United States, were on duty there.  Both of these inspectors spoke Italian, as well as English, and had had experience in the marble business in Italy prior to coming to the United States. There were also a transportation clerk and an additional clerk and messenger. The writer, under whose direction this work was carried on, made frequent visits to the Italian branch office to keep himself informed of the progress of the contracts and to make final decisions in regard to the rejections of crosses on which difference of opinion arose between the contractor and the officer in charge of the Italian branch office.

Owing to the early and late hours of labor carried on in Italian marble plants, as well as the volume of work to be done, the American force, on duty there was called upon to put in unusually long hours of work.  This force deserves great credit for the effi­cient and hard work it did there, and the high average quality of the headstones obtained on all contracts. The duties of the office force included inspection of marble at quarries, inspection of each step of the manufacture and inspection of the inscriptions on the finished cross, the latter including careful checking of each letter of the inscription, spelling of names, spacing, etc.  In addition, this supervision of all details required considerable tact and judgment in dealings with the contractors who were not accustomed to hav­ing outside inspectors in their plants and who on certain occasions felt the interpretation of specifications was stricter than justified. It is to the credit of these contractors, however, that notwithstanding the difficulties of procuring suitable marble and living up to all requirements of manufacture, they met the contracting officer more than halfway and showed their willingness and desire to produce crosses which were in every way satisfactory to the United States, even though in doing so they were compelled to stand an 8% to 10% rejection loss. 

PREPARING THE CEMETERIES 

While these crosses and Stars of David were being produced and shipped from the contractors in Italy, the Graves Registration Service at Paris was busy in preparing the cemeteries to receive these crosses as shipped.  This preparation involved the construction of 41 miles of reinforced concrete foundation, the construction of over 60,000 reinforced shoulders between which the crosses were cemented. and the cementing in place between the shoulders of over 31,000 bronze dowels. By far the most difficult part of this work was the securement of perfect alignment and an elevation of crosses which would give the most pleasing effect over the rolling grave areas.  This work was carried on jointly with the production of crosses, and as the carloads of crosses were received at the cemetery they were taken by motor truck to that section of the cemetery to which they pertained, immediately unboxed, inspected for damage enroute, and placed at the grave for which intended.  By use of small wedges they were temporarily secured in position there.

The next step in their erection included a final checking of the dowel pin alignments and also corrections in elevations, where necessary.  Experience had proved that it was impracticable to establish by instrument and corresponding grade stakes the exact position and elevation of each cross.  It was found practicable, however, to establish control points and grades throughout any given grave area, say every fifth cross and fifth row.  This method gave four control points, for every 25 crosses. Prior to establishing these control points, however, it was necessary to make use of the wooden crosses then marking the graves by slightly varying their elevation so as to give a pleasing and appropriate curve to the marble crosses when permanently installed.  As it was necessary to move the temporary wooden crosses just back of the graves prior to the construction of the concrete foundation for the new crosses, an opportunity was offered, while relocating these wooden crosses, to give them an elevation which would prove effective and practicable.

 ENGINEERING AND CONSTRUCTION WORK 

The engineering work in connection with laying out and construction of the concrete foundations, the construction of shoulders, and the cementing in position of the dowel pins, was under the technical supervision of Mr. Charles Moginier and Mr. J.. F. D. Brady. They were assisted by inspectors who were in general developed from employees of the Graves Registration Service.  Prior to the final operation of cementing these crosses in position, a careful study had been made of the effect of concrete on marble.  It was a well. known fact that marble was a stone extremely sensitive to coloring matter of any kind with which it came in contact. However, marble as a building stone or even for outside monuments had not been used to any great extent in France, and no specially manufactured white cement had been used by French masons and builders in cementing marble. It was, of course, known that poor grades of cement should not be used and that especial care should be taken in regard to the sand and water used in mixing the cement. There were also reports from certain French architects to the effect that slight discolorment of marble was liable to follow the use of any cement applied; directly to marble. In England it was found that the true Portland cement of strength of about one part cement to two parts sand was successfully used in cementing marble. At Brookwood Cemetery in England, the writer carefully examined the marble monuments which had been cemented in place by Portland; cement for periods from 50 to 60 years.  He found only slight traces of discoloration not sufficient for comment. In cementing the headstones at the differ­ent cemeteries, different cements were used, including the Portland cement, quicksetting cement, and so-called "white cement".  Some discolorations of marble did occur in one cemetery, namely, St. Mihiel.  In other cemeteries little, if any, discoloration has developed; However, the cement used did not account for the' discoloration, as the same cement used in the St. Mihiel Cemetery produced no discoloration in other cemeteries. It is believed the character of marble the amount of iron or coloring in the soil and the cement including the sand and water used with same all have a bearing on the discoloration of the marble  It was found by experiment, that the mixing of slacked lime with the soil where it came in immediate contact with the upright of the cross reduced the discoloration and in many cases removed it entirely. 

Following the final erection of crosses in each cemetery. it became necessary to regrade the grave areas and in many cases slightly change the position of trees and massives.  This work was carried out promptly and today all the cemeteries are complete so far as the erection of marble headstones are concerned and also the replacement of lawn areas, flowers and massives. 

RESULTING COST OF THE WORK 

The cost of the entire work amounted to approximately $18.50 per headstone.  This amount include initial cost of the headstone F. O B. contractor’s plants, varying from $11.50 to $12.50, transportation to various cemeteries, which varied with the distance to cemeteries, construction of reinforced concrete beams, and cementing in place of crosses averaged $2.50 per headstone. Regrading, construction of new lawn areas, replacing flowers and massives, average 90 cents per cross.  Overhead, Paris and Italian 0ffice, 60 cents per headstone. The cost of $18.50 headstone would have been $20.50 except for the generous action on the part of the French government in remitting the normal customs on marble transportation from Italy, which in this case amounted to $2.00 per headstone. This was a particularly gracious and liberal act on the part of France-not only for the money involved, but for the kindly sentiment all appreciation that it evidenced.

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