Hallowed Grounds

Mon, 05/25/2009 - 10:00pm
Pictured: Lorraine American Cemetery, France
Credit: Robert Uth, ©2005 New Voyage Communications, Inc.
Nearly 125,000 American military men and women are buried overseas in the lands they died to liberate. The bodies of almost 100,000 more have never been found. But not one of them has been forgotten.

Broadcast on Memorial Day, this new PBS documentary features footage of 22 overseas U.S. military cemeteries from World Wars I and II, as well as vignettes about the heroic men and women buried there and those who visit them. Hallowed Grounds airs Monday, May 25 at 10 p.m. on WXXI-TV21 (Cable 11) and WXXI-HD (DT21.1/cable 1011).

“We heard of these national treasures of the American Battle Monuments Commission while making The World War II Memorial: A Testament to Freedom for PBS,” said director-writer Robert Uth, “and were surprised to learn that most of them had never been portrayed in a major documentary. Even more interesting is that most Americans are not aware of their existence.”

Hallowed Grounds follows the path of U.S. forces in both world wars in eight countries: Belgium, England, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, the Philippines, and Tunisia. The documentary uses archival footage and photos to depict the battles that filled these burial grounds, and includes profiles of many of the American men and women who rest in them. Some of the featured were well known — including the poet Joyce Kilmer, two of Theodore Roosevelt’s sons, bandleader Glenn Miller, the five Sullivan brothers, and General George S. Patton — but most were ordinary men and women of all backgrounds, caught in the calamity of war.

Each of these overseas military cemeteries is a unique expression of commemorative design, with stunning landscapes, magnificent architecture, and powerful works of sculpture and art. All are tangible representations of American values and sacrifice. They provide a constant reminder in the countries where they reside of the tremendous sacrifice Americans made to preserve peace and freedom in the world. And they create a fitting resting place for those who paid the ultimate price. 

Hallowed Grounds has received praise from high-profile American war veterans. After seeing a preview of the film, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, who served in the Vietnam War, said, “This documentary gives long-overdue honor and recognition to these sacred places, and the men and women who gave their lives for the cause of freedom around the world.” Former South Dakota Democrat Sen. George S. McGovern, a World War II bomber pilot, also was impressed. “This is a superb dramatization of the American military cemeteries abroad,” he said. “It helps us remember the great sacrifices that young Americans made in defense of the nation.”

Hallowed Grounds is the most recent PBS work produced by Robert Uth of New Voyage Communications, along with his documentary partner Glenn Marcus. Both are the sons of World War II combat veterans; their earlier films include The March of The Bonus Army a documentary about World War I veterans, and Korean War Stories which won a national Emmy Award for outstanding historical documentary.

During the making of the film, Marcus, who co-wrote Hallowed Grounds , visited for the first time the grave of his father’s only sibling, interred in the Lorraine U.S. Military Cemetery in France. “I was pleased to see that the uncle I never knew is resting in this beautiful and immaculately maintained place,” he said. “It is a most worthy statement about how our country honors those who made the supreme sacrifice.”

The program, with an original score by Charlie Barnett, is narrated by Battle of the Bulge veteran Peter Thomas. 

Hallowed Grounds will be available from PBS Home Video: ShopPBS.org; 877-PBS-SHOP, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.