The St. Mihiel Cemetery of the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) is situated at Thiaucourt, France. Mihiel is a dialectual variant of the masculine name Michel. The name is derived from the 1918 Battle of the St. Mihiel Salient, which was fought over ground that includes the cemetery site, from September 12th through September 16th, 1918 and was a resounding victory for American arms.
The cemetery is the 3rd largest US WW1 cemetery, and undeniably the prettiest setting of all. Designed by the New York architect Thomas Harlan Ellett (1880 – 1951), who had served on the Western Front as an engineer officer in the 77th ‘Statue of Liberty’ Division, the site was dedicated in 1937. There are 4,153 burials here, including 15 females, and 137 of the burials are marked unknown. The Memorial to the Missing is in the chapel where there are black marble panels listing 284 men whose remains had not been identified by 1937. Unlike the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the ABMC doesn’t replace panels when the remains of a listed person are subsequently identified. Instead a marker (in this case a brass dot) is inserted by the name. In the accompanying photograph you can see such an entry.
There are several features that make the St. Mihiel Cemetery and Memorial unique:
First, it is also an interpretive site, as there is a huge map showing the actions of the St. Mihiel Offensive, made from inlaid pieces of colored marble.
Second, on the chapel wall there is a magnificent inlaid tile mosaic of St. Michael the Archangel leading God’s forces against those of evil, although ABMC interpretive materials now identify him as ‘the Angel of Victory’.
Third, in the center of the site there is a large sundial with a stunning Art Deco eagle as the Gnomon. You will likely recognize this eagle as it is frequently reproduced in WW1 literature (plus he may have been the inspiration for the Muppet character ‘Sam the Eagle’). The base of the sundial bears the clever inscription ‘Time will not dim the glory of their deeds’ which, surprisingly, is a quote from Gen. Pershing himself.
Finally, only in this ABMC WW1 cemetery is there a private memorial. It was placed here by Harriet Blaine Beale, whose son 1st Lieut. Walker Blaine Beale, of Co. I, 3rd Bn., 310th Inf., 78th Div., is buried here.
Walker Beale was born in 1896 into two powerful American families. His paternal grandfather was General Edward F. Beale, who went to California during the war with Mexico and came to control 270,000 acres of land known as the Tejon Ranch, about 75 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Both Edward and Walker’s father Truxtun served as US Ambassadors. Truxtun even served as Ambassador to Greece, Serbia and Romania at the same time. Walker’s maternal grandfather was James G. Blaine (“the Man from Maine”) who was Secretary of State (three times), a US Representative, a U.S. Senator and, as the Republican candidate, narrowly lost the Presidency to Grover Cleveland in 1884.
Walker graduated from St. Paul’s School in 1914 and entered Harvard. In July, 1916 he attended a Plattsburg Officers Training Course. After war was declared, he received additional training at Ft. Myer, VA, was commissioned and assigned to the newly-formed 78th ‘Jersey Lightning’ Division at Camp Dix, NJ. In March, 1918 the 78th went overseas. In August Walker became company commander but his promotion to Captain was still pending at his death. On September 12th, 1918, the first officially designated ‘D-Day’ in U.S. Army history, the 310th Infantry attacked in the direction of Thiaucourt, subsequently driving the Germans out of their positions there. On September 18th, after the battle was over, while reconnoitering the new German line near Xammes (about 3 miles north of the cemetery) Walker and two other officers were hit by shellfire. He was taken to a field hospital and died that night.
Harriet commissioned the noted Philadelphia sculptor Paul Manship (1885 – 1966) to produce a suitable monument to her only child. Manship is especially known for his 1934 Art Deco sculpture at the Rockefeller Center Ice Rink in New York which he entitled “Prometheus” but which has been known to generations of New Yorkers as “Safe on Second”.
In 1926, Harriet had the statue hauled to Thiaucourt to be placed on her son’s grave, even though Gen. Pershing, the founding Chairman of the ABMC, had expressly banned private memorials of any kind from ABMC sites, declaring that all graves would be marked by one of the two standard markers (a Cross or a Star of David) bearing only the standard inscription. Imagine his agitation when he learned that the Manship sculpture had been delivered to the site at St. Mihiel. Cables zinged back and forth, and a standoff ensued; even Gen. Pershing didn’t have enough political horsepower to have the statue removed.
A compromise was struck, with Pershing left fuming in his office: the sculpture would stay in the cemetery but would not be placed on Walker Beale’s grave nor would his name appear anywhere on the statue. However, the officer depicted on the memorial as ‘representative of all of the Doughboys’ is a detailed likeness of Walker Beale. On the cross behind the statue there are two inscriptions that were allowed by Pershing: Blessed are they that have the home longing for they shall go home and Il dort, loin des siens, dans la douce terre de France (“he sleeps, far from his own, in the sweet soil of France”).
Harriet lived until 1958 and willed her family mansion in Augusta to the State of Maine. Called ‘Blaine House’, it serves today as the Governor’s Residence. Paul Manship lived until 1966, and after WW2 he was commissioned to produce a sculpture entitled ‘Brothers in Arms’ for the ABMC Sicily-Rome Cemetery (contains WW2 burials) near Anzio in Italy.
About twelve miles southwest of the cemetery, on the top of the Butte de Mont Sec, the ABMC erected a memorial to the American forces that fought in the area. The hill was a very important German observation post for four years, but was encircled and rendered useless in one day on September 12th, 1918 by the US 1st and 26th Divisions.
The Mont Sec Memorial was designed by Egerton Swartwout (1870-1943), a well-known partner in the famous New York firm of McKim, Mead and White. Among Swartwout’s works are the Missouri State Capitol Building in Jefferson City and the Brookwood Memorial and Cemetery for the ABMC.
The structure is in the style of a Doric temple which has in its center, instead of a tomb, an excellent map of the surrounding area with interpretive detail of the St. Mihiel Battleground. The exterior view is strikingly similar to the Jefferson Memorial in Washington.
In 1944 the memorial was damaged by US Army artillery fire, making it the third of the ABMC sites to be damaged in WW2, the others being the chapel at Aisne-Marne Cemetery, hit by a German 37mm shell in 1940 (damage still visible) and the Naval Monument at Brest, which was completely destroyed by the Germans in 1941 to make room for a coastal defense battery. That memorial was completely rebuilt after the war.