ABC in KMC: Kindergraves

A U.S. flag and flower sit on top of a kindergrave during an annual ceremony at the American Kindergraves Memorial in Kaiserslautern, Germany, May 14, 2022. The ceremony commemorates the 451 infants who died shortly after birth between 1952 and 1971. The grave sites are maintained by generous donations to the Kaiserslautern Kindergraves Memorial Foundation and hard work of organized volunteer work year-round. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jordan Lazaro)

From 1952 to 1971 American infants, born at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center or at German hospitals nearby, who passed away at birth or shortly after, were laid to rest at the main cemetery in Kaiserslautern (Waldfriedhof) adjacent to U.S. Army Daenner Kaserne. At that time, many military members did not have the capability or funds to send the bodies to the United States.

Four hundred-fifty-two babies were buried at the cemetery and members of the German-American and International Women’s Club knew of the graves and maintained them early on, as the military families had moved on to other duty locations.

In the 1980’s, the cemetery management contacted the ladies and informed them that the initial lease was expiring, and the remains of the babies would be removed, in accordance with local custom, to make room for cemetery expansion.

The women’s club was determined to save the children’s graves from extinction and appealed to the local Air Force base legal office for help, however they determined the military could not do anything.  The club then appealed to the U.S. State Department. They too determined that they had no authority in the matter.

After the German authorities realized the steadfast position of the women’s club, the cemetery management agreed to allow a private organization directly affiliated with the military to assume responsibility for the gravesites. The Ramstein Area Chiefs’ Group (U.S. Air Force E-9’s) assumed this role.  The cemetery management agreed to move the gravesites to a new area in the heart of the cemetery and drafted a new lease. The Ramstein Area Chiefs’ Group now serves as the entrusted agent for the lease and the U.S. Army Command Sergeants Major Association also supports the activities.

The Kaiserslautern Kinder-graves Memorial Foundation was established in 1986 and its purpose is to maintain the memorial site, organize ceremonies in remembrance of the children and be a conduit of information for family inquiries. Representatives from the Ramstein Area Chiefs’ Group and the German-American Club (former German-American International Women’s Club) serve as co-chairs for the foundation. 

Each spring following Mother’s Day, a memorial ceremony is sponsored by the KKMF in cooperation with the Kaiserslautern Military Community and Kaiserslautern city officials. Floral wreaths are placed at the front monument and a candle lighting ceremony takes place in memory of the children. A flower and an American flag are placed at each grave marker. The Air Force Jr. ROTC Color Guard leads the procession to the gravesite.

The KKMF receives no funding from the U.S. government. The upkeep of the Kindergraves is possible through the generous monetary donations of the local community. The Ramstein Area Chiefs’ Group organizes volunteers to accomplish year-round maintenance (grass cutting, edging, trimming and stone cleaning). A group of German students from Burg Gymnasium Kaiserslautern help clean and decorate the graves and attend the ceremony. Members of the United States Air Forces in Europe Band also helped clear the area in preparation of the ceremony.

On occasion, parents or siblings of the children come back to honor their deceased sons or daughters, sisters or brothers, and take part in the ceremonies.

A memorial service will take place on Saturday, May 18 at 10 a.m. at Daenner Chapel, which will be followed by a wreath laying and candle lighting ceremony with leading U.S. Air Force, Army and local representatives. A flower and a tiny flag are placed on every grave, and anyone interested is welcome to join the observation in honor of the children or assist in the upkeep of the graves.