Tag Archives: military cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #159: Trafalgar Cemetery


Trafalgar Cemetery view and all photos that follow by Deb Dauber.

Trafalgar Cemetery
Gibraltar GX11 1AA, Gibraltar
Consecrated: June 1798
Closed: 1814
Size: small
Number of Interments: 108 or so

Gibraltar lies at the end of the Iberian peninsula at the mouth of the Mediterranean. While it shares its northern border with Spain, Gibraltar was captured by the British in 1704 and remains under British protection.

This pretty little graveyard, originally called the Southport Ditch Cemetery, is mostly filled with people who died in the recurrent yellow fever epidemics of the early 19th century. Consecrated in 1798, it was named for the Southport Ditch, part of the town’s natural defenses, that dates back to Gibraltar’s Spanish era in the 17th century.


The headstone of Lt. Norman.

Among the approximately 108 people buried here lie two sailors wounded during the Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805. Lieutenant William Forster of the HMS Columbus and Lieutenant Thomas Norman of the HMS Mars succumbed of their injuries after the battle was over. Norman’s headstone records that he “…died in the Naval Hospital of this Place…after having suffered several weeks with incredible Patience & Fortitude under the Effects of a fever & Wound rece’d in the great and memorable Seafight of Trafalgar.”

All the men who died during the course of the battle with Napoleon’s fleet were buried at sea.

Victims of other Napoleonic sea battles are buried here, however. Among them are Thomas Worth and John Buckland of the Royal Marine Artillery. They were killed by the same single shot in the Bay of Cadiz in 1810.

Also here lies John Brugier, who served as purser on the HMS San Juan Nepomuceno. That Spanish ship was captured at the Battle of Trafalgar, then towed into the harbor to be used as a supply warehouse.

IMG_1365Many of the graves here remember children of British soldiers stationed here who died of disease. The hand-lettered monument to Amelia Walker mentions her father, a lieutenant, but says nothing of her mother.  Amelia died at two months and nineteen days in March 1812.

After 1814, the little cemetery was considered full. Its final burial took place in the tomb in the northeast corner in 1838.

When nearby St. Jago’s Cemetery closed early in the 20th century, its gravestones were set into the eastern wall in 1932. Other gravestones were moved from the Alameda Gardens.

In 1992, the Royal Navy donated an anchor as a memorial to those buried at sea during the Battle of Trafalgar.

Useful links:

Information on visiting the Gibraltar Cemetery

More information on sightseeing in the Gibraltar Cemetery

The travel snapshots post on Cemetery Travel that inspired this listing.

Cemetery of the Week #157: Normandy American Cemetery

American_military_cemetery_2003Normandy American Cemetery
Also known as the Omaha Beach Cemetery and Cimetière Américain de Normandie
14710, Colleville-sur-Mer, France
Dedicated: 1956
Size: 172.5 acres (70 hectares)
Number of interments: 9387
Open: Except on December 25 and January 1, the cemetery is open daily from 9 am to 6 pm from April 15 to September 15, and from 9 am to 5 pm the rest of the year. Admission closes 15 minutes before closing time. The cemetery is open on holidays in France. When it is open, staff members in the visitor center can answer questions or escort relatives to grave and memorial sites.

The most-visited American military cemetery outside the US stands above a stretch of beach south of the English Channel on the northern coast of France. More than 9,000 men and four women are buried in the Normandy American Cemetery under row upon row of white crosses and Stars of David.

On June 6, 1944 — D-Day — American soldiers joined Allied Forces for the liberation of France.  2499 Americans fell before the Allies chased the Germans from heavily fortified Omaha Beach.

Two days after the landing, the American dead were buried temporarily in the first American cemetery to be established in Europe in World War II.  Called St. Laurent-sur-Mer, the cemetery was a holding place for servicemen until their families could be contacted. Next-of-kin could request repatriation or permanent burial in France. Nearly 60% of the fallen were sent home, while the rest were interred on land donated by France in gratitude for America’s sacrifice.

normandy postcardA half-mile-long access road leads to the Normandy American Cemetery, which covers 172.5 acres on the headlands above the D-Day beaches. The cemetery is the largest US World War II graveyard overseas.  Buried there are 9383 men and four women, victims of various battles. 33 pairs of brothers lie side by side. The graves are aligned on a vast green lawn divided by paths.

A $30 million visitor center was dedicated by the American Battle Monuments Commission in 2007, on the 63rd anniversary of D-Day. The visitor center, which serves as the entrance to the cemetery, welcomes approximately a million people each year.


Photo by Dennis Jarvis.

At the heart of the cemetery rises a 22-foot-high bronze nude called “Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves,” sculpted by Donald Harcourt De Lue and cast in Italy. The statue is surrounded by gold letters that proclaim, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the lord.” Behind it stands a semi-circular limestone colonnade that says, “This embattled shore, portal of freedom, is forever hallowed.” At each end of the colonnade is a loggia which displays maps of the Battle of Normandy. The loggias are engraved, “In proud remembrance of the achievements of her sons and in humble tribute to their sacrifices, this memorial has been erected by the United States of America.”

A semicircular garden on the east holds the Walls of the Missing. Its dedication reads: “Here are recorded the names of Americans who gave their lives in the service of their country and who sleep in unknown graves. This is their memorial. The whole Earth their sepulcher. Comrades in Arms whose Resting Place is Known Only to God.” Of the 1557 names listed, some are now marked with rosettes because they have since been discovered and identified.

Two of President Theodore Roosevelt’s sons lie here. Theodore Jr. was the president’s eldest son. He fought in both world wars and received the Medal of Honor. In WWII, he served as a general. He was one of the first Americans to come ashore in France. He landed at Utah Beach, two kilometers farther south than they’d planned, but he encouraged his men by saying, “We’ll start the war from right here!” A month after the landing, he died of a heart condition.

His brother Quentin had died in aerial combat during World War I. He had been buried in Chamery Cemetery in the Marne region of France, but he was brought here to lie beside his brother.

The pathway from the cemetery down to the beach was closed in April 2016, due to security concerns.  A viewing platform overlooks the battlefield, now a peaceful sandy beach that stretches as far as one can see.

Normandy American Cemetery is the largest overseas World War II graveyard, but the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery from World War I contains the remains of 14,000 Americans.

This clip from Saving Private Ryan was filmed in the Normandy American Cemetery:

Useful links:

American Battle Monuments Commission page for the Normandy American Cemetery

Directions to Omaha Beach

Other American military cemeteries on Cemetery Travel:

National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Honolulu, Hawaii

The USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

Soldiers’ National Cemetery, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia

Fort Mackinac Post Cemetery, Mackinac Island, Michigan

San Francisco National Cemetery, San Francisco, California

Mare Island Cemetery, Vallejo, California

Cemetery Travel in Australia

199Cemeteries_cover lo-resI had the honor of being a guest on Blueprint for Living on Australia’s ABC network last Friday.  We talked about what draws people to cemeteries, what they might find there, and why it’s worth going out of your way to visit graves of people you don’t know. Here is the link to the podcast:


The three guests on the program — historian Dr. Celestina Sagazio, author Garrie Hutchinson, and me — were asked to list our ten favorite cemeteries.  Those lists are here: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/blueprintforliving/cemetery-travel—10-of-the-worlds-best/8667452

How does your list of favorites compare?


Yesterday’s midweek holiday has thoroughly confused me, so there will be no Cemetery of the Week today.

Cemetery of the Week #133: Mare Island Cemetery

Looking from the top of the cemetery toward the Powder Magazine

Looking from the top of the cemetery toward the Powder Magazine

Mare Island Cemetery
also known as The Mare Island Naval Cemetery
Blake Avenue Mare Island, Vallejo, California 94590
Telephone: (707) 557-1538
First recorded burial: 1856
Years of Usage: Circa 1856-1921, although some burials continued after the cemetery was officially closed.
Size: 2.43 acres
Number of interments
: Approximately 1000
Open: The cemetery is beyond a locked gate and access is limited. The Mare Island Historic Park Foundation holds the key. Contact the Mare Island Museum at Railroad & 8th Streets.
Tours:  The Mare Island Historic Park Foundation offers group tours by reservation. The two-hour tour includes the shipyard, the dry docks, the Commander’s Mansion, the huge 1855 Museum, the cemetery, and the West’s largest collection of Tiffany windows, inside the 1901 St. Peter’s Chapel. Suggested donation is $14 per person. Reservations: (707) 644-4746

A boat carrying horses for the Mexican military in the Bay Area foundered around this peninsula thrust out into the northern reaches of the bay in 1830. General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, commander of the Mexican calvary, believed his favorite mare was lost. Instead, she was eventually located here. General Vallejo named Mare Island, though not a true island, in her honor.

After the American takeover of San Francisco in 1846, the United States wanted to extend its power in the Pacific. In 1854, Mare Island was chosen to become the first naval base on the West Coast.

As soon as 1859, it churned out its first warship. The first West Coast dry dock to repair ships already in the water was completed there in 1872. By that time, the granite-lined dry dock was already too shallow for the boats being built.

In World War I, Mare Island set a record when the destroyer USS Ward was built in seventeen and a half days. During the second World War, Mare Island built 17 submarines, 31 destroyer escorts, and more than 300 landing craft. Its final vehicle was the USS Drum, a nuclear-powered attack submarine in 1970.

Shipboard medicine being what it was, many sailors arrived at Mare Island ill or injured. In the early days, these men were simply transferred to ships heading back to hospitals in the East, with hopes they’d still be alive when they arrived.  (Soon-to-be Admiral) David Glasgow Farragut, the commander in charge of establishing the base, successfully petitioned for a Naval hospital on the island — and the surviving building is huge, attesting to the need it served.

Even before the hospital was completed, the Navy saw the need for a graveyard. The West Coast’s oldest Naval cemetery was established on the tree-lined hillside at the south end of Mare Island.  It serves as the final resting place for sailors, soldiers, and their loved ones.

The first recorded burial was George Dowd, who died aboard the USS Massachusetts on February 11, 1856. He was buried by the Reverend Mr. Hunt from San Francisco the following day.

Most of the graves have markers, but not all. Cemetery records aren’t comprehensive, but the Public Works Department made a list of graves in 1918, which was updated in 1956. When the Naval hospital closed in 1957, a list of graves by section was given to the Shipyard Historian. The cemetery doesn’t have any big names buried in it, but it does hold some interesting stories:

Anna Scott Key Turner's monument

Anna Scott Key Turner’s monument

Anna Arnold Key Turner — daughter of Francis Scott Key, author of “The Star-Spangled Banner “— is buried there in a grave whose monument says, “The children arise and call her blessed.” She had eleven children with her husband David. She served as one of Vallejo’s first public school teachers and died in 1884.

David preceded her in death in 1860 and is buried beside her. He was a Congressional representative from North Carolina, where his father was governor, when he met Anna. He accompanied Farragut to Mare Island in 1854 and worked as the supervising civil engineer. Some of the buildings he built still stand.

Lucy Lawson's headstone

Lucy Lawson’s headstone

Accused murderess Lucy Lawson was convicted of paying a man $50 to murder her husband in 1875. She was sentenced to hang. When the first of her co-conspirators was hung, the rope broke. The executioner was successful on his second attempt, but by then, evidence arose that one of the witnesses who’d testified against Lucy was a disgruntled ex-lover. She eventually was pardoned. She took a job as a nanny for the family of Commodore Stacy Potts. When the family moved to Mare Island, she came along and was buried there in 1919 after serving for 35 years.

The cemetery has three confirmed Medal of Honor recipients. The most heroic of them is William Halford, who rescued the side-wheel steamer USS Saginaw in 1870. After surveying the lagoon at Midway Island, the Saginaw detoured to Ocean Island to see if anyone had been shipwrecked there. In a twist of fate, the Saginaw hit a reef and sank. Halford and four other men took a small boat to seek help. After 25 days at sea, they reached the island of Kauai. Only Halford made it safely to land. He found a boat to take him to Honolulu, where he directed rescuers to the shipwrecked Saginaw.

There may also be a bear buried in the upper lefthand corner of the cemetery. He had served as a ship’s mascot. Local newspapers reported his funeral, but it’s unclear if he was interred inside or outside the cemetery fence.

In addition to Japanese, Chinese, Irish, and other nationalities represented in the graveyard, two Russians sailors serving on the Lena died while their ship was at Mare Island undergoing repairs during the Russo-Japanese War, 1904-1905.

The new Russian gravestones

The new Russian gravestones

Toward the front of the cemetery lie six other Russian sailors, who died during the Civil War era. They’d served on the Bogatyr, flagship of Admiral A.A. Popov’s Pacific Squadron, which visited the Bay Area at the invitation of President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Lincoln was seeking international support to counter the French and British fleets gathering behind the Confederacy.

While the Russians were in San Francisco, fire broke out in the Financial District. The six Russian sailors died fighting the blaze. The original markers, paid for by their shipmates, were probably wooden crosses. The US Navy purchased more permanent markers for them in the 19th century, but those had become illegible over the years.

The Mare Island Cemetery made the news in April 2011 after the Russian Consulate voluntarily replaced the worn headstones of the Russian sextet with granite crosses copied from the crew of the Lena. Unfortunately, because the cemetery is a National Historical Landmark, it is illegal to change it in any way. While the Russian Consul-General had applied for the appropriate permits, they had not been signed by the time the replacement work was done.

The director of the nonprofit Mare Island Heritage Trust, Myrna Hayes, pushed for criminal charges to be filed against the Russian Consulate for vandalism. Apparently an uneasy peace has been reached, because the new monuments continue to stand.

The Mare Island Naval Cemetery closed on November 1, 1921. The Navy wanted to expand the adjacent powder magazine by moving the dead to another Vallejo or military cemetery and clearing the land. The sailors could have been transferred to the National Cemetery at San Francisco’s Presidio, but the Navy couldn’t disinter the civilians without permission of their families. In the end, securing permission seemed too complicated, so the cemetery simply closed down.

For years, it was overseen by the Bureau of Medicine. The cemetery was transferred to the Bureau of Yards and Docks in 1963. Following that, it was overseen by the Mare Island Naval Station. Now that the Navy is gone, it’s cared for by volunteers from the Mare Island Historic Park Foundation and the Vallejo Parks Department.

The cemetery’s final burial took place in 1983. Eleanor Gibson, related to former State Senator Luther Gibson had lived on the island as a child.  She made her burial arrangements many years before her death. Her ashes were buried in the Phelps family plot.

The Mare Island Naval Shipyard became a National Historic Landmark in 1975. The landmark’s boundaries include the Mare Island Strait, Causeway Street, Cedar Avenue, and Mesa, Ribeiro and Tyler Roads.

Closed by the Navy in 1996, Mare Island was “conveyed” to the City of Vallejo in 2002.

Useful links:
Mare Island Historic Park Foundation website

A brief history of Mare Island

More Mare Island history

Story in the San Francisco Chronicle about the new Russian headstones

One of the docents has collected up stories of people buried here

Night photos of Mare Island

My review of the book about the Officers’ section of the cemetery on Cemetery Travel

Cemetery of the Week #84: National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, with Honolulu in the distance.

National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, with Honolulu in the distance. Vintage postcard.

National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific
Also called the Punchbowl Cemetery
2177 Puowaina Drive
Honolulu, Hawaii 96813-1729
Phone: (808) 532-3720
First modern burial: January 4, 1949
Size: 112 acres
Number of interments: approximately 34,000 servicemen and women
Open: September 30 to March 1, from 8 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. March 2 to September 29, from 8 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. On Memorial Day, the cemetery is open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.

The name “Punchbowl” comes from the shape of the crater in which the cemetery lies. The crater was formed 75,000 to 100,000 years ago when hot lava seeped through cracks in the old coral reefs. Its Hawaiian name, “Puowaina,” is most commonly translated as “Hill of Sacrifice.” The crater’s first known use was as an altar where Hawaiians offered human sacrifices to their gods.

The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific from the rim, looking inward. Vintage postcard.

In the 1890s, a committee suggested the Punchbowl as a new cemetery for Honolulu’s burgeoning population. The idea was rejected because, among other reasons, the living didn’t like the idea of having a city of the dead above them. Fifty years later, Congress authorized $50,000 to establish a national cemetery in Honolulu. Hawaii’s governor offered the Punchbowl for the graveyard, but the money wouldn’t cover the work needed, so the project was deferred until after World War II.

By 1947, Congress pressured the military to create a permanent burial site for the remains of thousands of World War II servicemen temporarily buried on the island of Guam and throughout the Pacific theater. The Army reopened negotiations about the Punchbowl. Construction began in February 1948.

Magnolia trees in bloom at Eastertime, 1996

Magnolia trees in bloom at Eastertime, 1996

The remains of soldiers were disinterred from around the Pacific, including from Wake Island, Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, Burma, China, and the Japanese POW camps. These were transported to Hawaii for final burial. The first interments were made January 4, 1949. These included 776 casualties killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The cemetery opened to the public on July 19, 1949, with the burial of a civilian: war correspondent Ernie Pyle. Eventually, over 13,000 soldiers and sailors who gave their lives in World War II would be buried in the Punchbowl.

Vintage postcard of the Punchbowl Cemetery overlooking Diamondhead.

Vintage postcard of the Punchbowl Cemetery overlooking Diamondhead.

Originally, white wooden crosses and Stars of David marked graves at National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. Despite the Army’s intention that these monuments would be only temporary, people complained when they were replaced by flat granite markers in 1951. It does the graveyard more of a mid-century lawn cemetery aspect, rather than the upright military monuments seen in Arlington and other American military burial grounds.

Among the people commemorated there are Hawaiian astronaut Elison Onizuka, who died about the Challenger space shuttle and tattoo legend Norman Collins, known as “Sailor Jerry.” At this point, the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific is only open to cremated remains. Casketed remains are accepted for burial only in the graves of family members already interred there.

From the bus, the Honolulu Memorial,  with the Courts of the Missing

From the bus: the Honolulu Memorial, with the Courts of the Missing which name those lost, missing, or buried at sea during World War II.

Nearly five million people visit the Punchbowl Cemetery each year. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.  There are several options for exploring the cemetery:  The American Legion offers free walking tours of the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. Call (808) 946-6383 for information.  Discover Hawaii Tours does a narrated drive-through of the cemetery, but their buses are not allowed to stop. You can find more information about their tours here.

ETA: There’s a big push to identify the unknowns buried in the Punchbowl after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Here is more information.

Useful links:

The Department of Veterans Affairs site for the National Cemetery of the Pacific

Photos of the cemetery

Map and video of the cemetery

GPS information on CemeteryRegistry.us

Other Hawaiian cemeteries on Cemetery Travel:

Seamen’s Cemetery in Lahaina, Maui

USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Oahu

Kawaiaha’o Churchyard, Honolulu, Oahu