How Graves Registration works in Action

Sergeant Peter F. Slusarczyk, 603d QM Graves Registration Company, is identifying a dead soldier on Omaha Beach June 12th 1944. Later, Sgt. Slusarczyk had to identify his own brother amongst the dead in Normandy.

During the battles of Tunesia and Sicily, a chaplain served as Graves Registration Officer for the 9th Infantry Division. For his efficient handling of Allied and enemy dead, he has been awarded a Legion of Merit, and his methods have been incorporated into the Division’s Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). The following information, which gives a system of carrying out graves registration activities on the battlefield, is based on information obtained from the chaplain.

The Graves Registration Service platoon should be attached to a Division at least two weeks in advance of anticipated action in order that proper instructions, coordination, and arrangements for equipment can be made. The units are usually attached too late, a couple of days before or even a few days after the beginning of action. G-3 must keep on informing the Division Graves Registration Officer of the relative location of a new action or difficult fighting so that preparations can be made to handle the situation.

Some system of communication must be available direct to the Graves Registration Officer of the Division for reports and checkups to higher headquarters and from the field to combat. Lack of direct communications causes much delay and possible loss of location of bodies.


One central cemetery
One cemetery per Corps or similar unit established previous to operations seems more advisable than one per Division. Evacuation of all bodies to such a central location would avoid unnecessary reburials and possibility of lost identification. Establish cemeteries near Prisoner of War inclosures in order that sufficient labor may be available. There are no service troops available for digging graves. Civilian labor is often difficult to obtain or is unreliable. The GRO platoon is not large enough for either supplying guards or digging-labor.

Collecting points for bodies should be located four to six miles behind the front of each regimental combat unit. The unit officer in charge is responsible for evacuation of dead to this point, which should be at some convenient spot. Sufficient transportation should be available to units for evacuation of dead.


Isolated burials:

All personnel should be instructed to make an immediate report to the Division GRO of any isolated grave discovered (American, Allied, or Enemy). Coordinates of location and any other known information should be submitted. No isolated burials (American or Allied) should be made on the battlefield unless evacuation is impossible or morale demands it. Bodies should not be exposed for more than 43 hours, or more than 25 hours if exceedingly hot weather. If battlefield burial becomes necessary, the immediate officer or non-commissioned officer shall:

  1. See that the Emegency Medial Tag (Form 52b) is on the body, and if not, to arrange for same. Before burial, remove and forward this tag to the Division GRO or Surgeon.

  2. Locate graves near a trail or roadway so they can easily be identified.

  3. Dig grave at least three feet deep.

    Wrap the body

  4. Wrap the body in blanket or shelter half. (Mattress covers were used in Italy).

  5. Remove one identification tag. Leave one on body. In the event that no tags are found on body, make a written record of identification, location, and inclose this paper in a sealed case. (Two .50 caliber shells sealed with tape in the center can be used). Bury the case at the head of the body, six inches below the the ground. Forward a copy of the information the Division GRO.

  6. Place a ring of stones or other material around the outline of the grave. Erect a marker at the head, and fasten to it the identification tag previously removed.

    KIA Paratrooper of the 82nd Airborne Division nearby Ste-Mere-Eglise. Temporarely covered by a blanket. June 7 1944.

    Make a sketch

  7. Make a sketch of the grave’s location, giving coordinates and map number and indicating the outstanding landmarks. Forward this to the Division GRO.

  8. Remove and inventory all personal pocessions on body and wrap securely in a handkerchief or other available otem, making certain one bundle contains effects of one man only. Forward this bundle as soon as possible to Division GRO.

  9. Remove any military equipment such as compass, pistol, cartridge belt, etc. and forward to unit supply officer.

    Forward record

  10. Forward Record on deceased to Division GRO with the following information: Nsme, rank, ASN, unit, beneficiary, location of grave, date of KIA (Killed-in-Action), place of KIA, type of wound, time and date of burial, and color. Accuracy is of paramount importance. Sign the record submitted.

  11. These same instructions apply to enemy dead except the grave marker is marked ED (Enemy Dead). Also, you break the enemy identification tag at the perforation and bury one-half with the body, the other half with personal pocessions which are forwarded to Division GRO for disposition. Prior to burial, copy the information, which is one the tag, onto the marker in pencil, or on a piece of paper which is buried in a sealed container at the head of the grave, six inches under the ground.

    Evacuation

In all cases except the dire emergency, bodies will be evacuated to GRS collecting points or cemetery. In the case of American or Allied dead:

  1. Leave all identification tags on body.

  2. Leave Emergency Medical Tag on body.

  3. Leave all personal possessions including money, on body.

  4. Leave all Government equipment on body unless it is needed for immediate use in battle.

  5. Transport bodies to collecting point in any available transportation.

  6. The collecting point, send necessary information as to unit, tank, place and time of death, or if unknown, any information that may help in identification. Immediate information may make all the difference between known and unknown soldiers.

Disposition

The disposition of possessions not found on body proceeds according to War-Department memo W600-61-43, paragraph 3a, b, c, d, and e, except that U.S. Treasury checks for moneys of the deceased will be obtained from the local finance officer through Division GRO, and not as listed in paragraph 3c.

The check will be forwarded by Division GRO direct via air mail to Effects Quartermaster. Receipt and necessary information will be supplied unit for correct marking of Form 54. Be certain entry is not made on Form 54 until receipt has been obtained from Division GRO.

Miscellaneous Comments

Prior to entering combat zone, each organization commander will personally check to verify that each man of his company is wearing identification tags and that leggings are marked for identification. Periodic inspection will be made at unannounced times. Hand sets for making tags in Battalions should be furnished.

During lulls in battle, search will be made for any possible dead. The lives of soldiers will not be endangered by entering known mine-fields to remove dead, until engineers have made it relatively safe.

No soldier will be reported KIA unless there is absolutely certainty. In all other cases, a soldier is MIA (Missing-in-Action). There is no such thing as guessing. Report to Division GRO all temporary burials and al unburied bodies. Civilian dead are not the responsibility of combat troops, but should be reported to proper local authorities.

Each unit down to and including a company will have an officer (executive officer) designated as GR officer, who shall be responsible for supervision of temporary burial of dead or evacuation of GRS collection point. These officers shall be directly responsible to the Division GRO.


© Quartermaster Training Service Journal, 30 June 1944


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