The US military cemetery the Pentagon doesn’t want you to see

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Seventy kilometers northeast of Paris is the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery and Memorial. Four plots fill the space, with one end featuring a large marble and granite Romanesque memorial to Americans who died in action in World War I and are buried on the grounds. But outside the well-appointed space, across the street, through a thick wall of shrubbery, there is a fifth plot of graves. He’s the one the army wants to keep quiet.

Plot E of the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery and Memorial is the final resting place of nearly 100 American servicemen executed during or just after the Second World War. Almost all of those buried there have been convicted of murder or rape, with the victims being other American servicemen as well as civilians from France, the United Kingdom and other countries. They were convicted by court-martial and sentenced to death, killed by hanging or firing squad.

Although it is technically part of the larger cemetery, it sits away from the main space and is not advertised or recognized by the facility or the American Battle Monuments Commission. The cemetery does maintenance on the grounds, but for the public it is difficult to enter. The only apparent gate to the 100-by-50-foot cemetery passes through an office on the cemetery grounds. The American flag is not allowed to fly on it, and while the space can be accessed, the graveyard is minimal.

The graves themselves are marked only by tiny squares of stone, with no name on them. The names weren’t revealed until decades later thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request. Unlike the WWI cemetery, there is only one granite cross on the grave field. 96 people were buried in plot E. Among those buried in plot E is Louis Till, father of Emmett Till (he was first buried in Italy but reinterred in the French cemetery in 1948).

If plot E is known to the general public, since it is not officially recognized, it is to house at some point the remains of Pvt. Eddie Slovik. Slovik was the only American in World War II to be tried, convicted, and executed for desertion, the first such case since the American Civil War. Many other soldiers deserted, but were dishonorably discharged, which Slovik himself expected as punishment. He had even pleaded for clemency from General Dwight D. Eisenhower, but the general upheld the execution as a way to prevent further desertions from the army. Slovik was buried in Plot E, where his body remained until 1987, when after years of advocacy, his remains were returned to the United States, where he was reinterred.

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