On the fringes of the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery and Memorial in northern France, there is another, secret cemetery. It is a miserable looking patch of land.
It has no name, only the generic reference “Plot E”. Although 96 American soldiers were laid to rest in this 100-foot by 50-foot clearing, the US military forbids the flag to fly above them. There are no grave markers, only numbers carved into blocks of stone smaller than an index card.
Trees and tall hedges keep it hidden from view, and groundskeepers routinely let it grow shaggy with weeds. Maintenance is haphazard and the only way to reach this plot is though a backdoor in the manger’s office. Every occupant in this plot is buried facing away from the larger cemetery, six thousand American graves from World War I.
The only adornment in this hidden cemetery is a single granite cross, which faces AWAY from the 96 American graves, implying that God Himself turned His back on these occupants. Plot E contains the graves of dishonored American soldiers whose crimes were so abhorrent that a dishonorable discharge and execution weren’t enough. In almost every case, the crimes included murder and/or rape.
From the invasion of Sicily in 1943 to Nazi Germany’s surrender in 1945, 98 American soldiers were executed in the European Theater and buried at or near the site of their execution. After the war’s end, these scattered graves were exhumed and brought to the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery, specifically to be placed among their own “kind”. Plot E was to become a cemetery without a name, and that anonymity would act as an anti-memorial to these former soldiers.
Dishonorable discharges (DD) are not given lightly, then or now. Today, fewer than one soldier in a thousand will receive a DD. That’s a good thing, because the social and civil stigma it carries is severe, especially among others who served. The oath taken by American soldiers requires a higher standard of honor and accountability than civilians. It’s a necessary part of military cohesion. To break that oath is to break that bond.
First, there’s usually a prison sentence. Once released, in the eyes of the United States, you become an un-American. All GI and VA benefits are stripped away. It many states, it carries the same penalties as a past felony, taking away your right to vote, to hold public office, or to participate in jury selection. It also takes away a citizen’s Second Amendment rights: you can no longer purchase or possess a firearm or ammunition. A DD makes a soldier an American pariah.
Plot E’s 96 soldiers committed crimes so heinous that even a dishonorable discharge and execution weren’t enough. They would pay with their very names. Reflecting this, the American military kept the names of Plot E’s occupants a secret until a 2009 Freedom of Information Act request forced compliance and the soldiers’ names and crimes were released. In almost every case, it was a combination of rape and murder.
*For those interested, the list is currently posted on Wikipedia. No official site or database exists for these men. As dictated by tradition, the US will not go out of its way to bring then attention or sympathy.