Asia's Arlington: The Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines

Aerial view of Manila American Cemetery, Philippines

Mary Frances Therese Rojas / Getty Images

The Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in the Philippines honors the American and allied servicemen who died fighting the Japanese in World War II. The Cemetery offers repose to soldiers who died in the Pacific theater, which included the Philippines, New Guinea, and the Pacific islands.

At 152 acres, it is one of the largest overseas cemeteries for American World War II soldiers. Only the Normandy American Cemetery in France is larger, and the Manila plot has it beat in terms of largest number of graves - 17,202 American and allied servicemen rest in the Manila America Cemetery's grounds. (Normandy has 9,387.) A memorial on the Cemetery's grounds also honors the 36,279 American servicemen listed as Missing in Action while serving in the Pacific during the war.

The scale of the Manila American Cemetery - and the number of dead and MIA servicemen it honors - shows the massive scale of the Pacific theater in World War II and the equally massive price it cost in lives. The American Battle Monuments Commission maintains the American Cemetery in remembrance of the American servicemen who gave their lives for freedom's cause in the Pacific.

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Grounds of the American Cemetery

Grounds of Manila American Cemetery, Philippines
Rajesh Pamnani/Getty Images

The Manila American Cemetery and Memorial occupies a plateau covering 152 acres in the Manila suburb of Taguig. The 17,206 graves on the site represent bodies of servicemen recovered from graves all across the southwest and central Pacific.

The graves include those of 16,636 Americans and 570 Philippine Scouts who served in the Pacific theater. 3,744 unidentified soldiers also rest within the grounds of the American Cemetery.

The graves are marked by white marble headstones set in a circular pattern on gently sloping grounds. The graves are arranged around a circular structure that includes a white chapel and two hemicycles that honor the war's many missing servicemen.

The war exacted a terrible toll on American families, which is reflected by the fact that in at least 20 instances in the Cemetery, two brothers lie next to one another. On the Tablets of the Missing, too, are recorded the names of the five Sullivan brothers from Iowa, who died when their ship, the USS Juneau, sank in the Pacific.

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The American Cemetery's Chapel

Work of the U.S. Government - Public domain.

Climbing up from the central pathway leading to the chapel, you'll first cross into a grassy terrace known as the Memorial Court. The American Cemetery's chapel stands at the south end of the circle demarcated by the two hemicycles surrounding the Memorial Court.

The chapel's façade features sculpture created by Boris Lovet Lorski and Filipino Cecchetti, depicting St. George fighting the dragon and the personifications of Liberty, Justice, and Country. At the very top of the relief stands Columbia and a child that symbolizes the future.

Inside the chapel, the worship area is set off with an altar crafted from Sicilian marble; on the wall behind it is a blue mosaic featuring a Madonna figure scattering flowers in memory of the heroic dead.

Every hour between 9 am to 5 pm, a carillon sounds to mark the hour and half hour - at 5 pm, the carillon plays the national anthems of both the U.S. and the Philippines, followed by a volley of rifles and the playing of "taps".

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The Tablets of the Missing

Family walking amidst the Tablets of the Missing, Manila American Cemetery
Greg Elms/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

Limestone walls within the two hemicycles list 36,285 names that constitute the Pacific theater's missing in action.

Not all of the names listed on the Tablets of the Missing remained missing - those whose remains were recovered and identified afterward are punctuated with rosettes.

The Tablets of the Missing are grouped by Armed Service and arranged alphabetically from the south ends of each hemicycle.

The west hemicycle lists the missing servicemen from the Navy and the Marines. Its frieze facing the Memorial Court lists the Pacific battles waged by the Navy and the Marines.

The east hemicycle lists the missing from the Marines, the Coast Guard, and the Army and Army air forces (the Air Force as a separate armed service wasn't established until after the war). Its frieze facing the Memorial Court lists the Pacific battles waged by the Army and the Marines.

The marble floors of each hemicycle are emblazoned with the great Seal of the United States and seals from the States of the Union, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

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The Map Rooms, Manila American Cemetery

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates is shown around a Map Room by Larry Adkison, superintendent of the Manila American Cemetery.
Work of the U.S. Government - Public domain

Map rooms at the ends of the hemicycles depict major battles of the war in the Pacific. Altogether, 25 mosaic maps describe the exploits of the U.S. Armed Forces in the Pacific theater.

The maps are made from tinted concrete, colored aggregates, and mosaic inserts, with text cast from plastic. The borders of each map reflect the unique art patterns of the Pacific countries affected by the war.

From the hemicycles, you can see the lowlands of the capital towards Laguna de Bay, although the view is increasingly being obscured by high-rises being constructed in nearby Fort Bonifacio.

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Getting to the American Cemetery

Memorial ceremony in honor of servicemembers buried at the Manila American Cemetery, Philippines.
Work of the U.S. Government - Public domain

The Manila American Cemetery and Memorial is located along the border of Makati and Taguig within metropolitan Manila. The American Cemetery is open daily to the public from 9 am to 5 pm; it is closed on December 25 and January 1.

To get to the American Cemetery from the Makati central business district, the easiest way is via taxi - expect the trip to take 10-15 minutes and cost you about $1.50, or about PHP 60.

It is also possible to take public transport to the American Cemetery - you can take the MRT to the Makati Ayala Station, get down on the east side of the station, and walk towards the corner of Ayala Avenue and EDSA across from the gas station. There's a jeepney terminal waiting there - tell the driver ahead of time to stop in front of the American Cemetery.

Once inside the American Cemetery, you'll find a Visitors' Building just inside the main gate. You'll be able to get information, sign the register, and use their very clean bathroom (one of a few publicly accessible clean bathrooms in Manila!). You can also get someone from the staff to help you with any questions you may have.

Manila American Cemetery Contact Details

Address: Manila American Cemetery, #1 Lawton Avenue, Taguig City, Philippines
Phone: 011-632-844-0212
Fax: 011-632-812-4717