Crosses in the Wind: Graves Registration Service in the Second World War

The Book

Crosses in the Wind by Joseph Shomon, first published in 1947, is the first-hand account by the commander of the 611th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company during the Second World War in Europe. In an under-reported but vital part of the war effort, the Graves Registration Service was responsible for the massive task of collecting fallen soldiers, identifying remains, preparing bodies for interment, forwarding personal effects to families, and establishing military cemeteries across Europe.

In addition to providing an overview of the major European battles, the book focuses on the activities of author Major Joseph Shomon, from the formation of his company at Fort Francis E. Warren in Wyoming, followed by the unit’s transfer to England where they began processing D-day casualties, and then continuing eastward across Europe with the advancing U.S. armies.

The book closes with the Company in southern France awaiting deployment to the Pacific theater. But after the atomic bomb drops on Japan and the subsequent end of the war, the unit is broken up, with some troops returning to Germany and others to the U.S. Includes 30 pages of photographs and maps.

My Thoughts

This book was published before most of the overseas American cemeteries were officially open. It follows the 611th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company, of which the author was the commanding officer for twenty-one months, giving the reader a first-hand account of the dreadful but important job they undertook to care for our war dead.

Their unit alone buried more than 21,000 bodies, following the D-Day landings and on through Europe–“a work of respect for their dead comrades. . . .”

I was interested in the technical training the unit underwent in Wyoming before deploying to England. And the great care they took to make sure that identifications were certain and that personal items were protected to send home to loved ones.

An important piece of history, especially since I have a young uncle, buried at an American cemetery in France, whose remains went through a very detailed Graves Registration process from southern Austria to a temporary cemetery in eastern France, before being permanently buried there.

A clipping among Grandma Leora Wilson’s papers,. Photo of Danny Wilson’s sisters, Darlene (Wilson) Scar and Doris (Wilson) Neal, first visitors to his grave at the Lorraine American Cemetery, St. Avold, France, October 1997. Photo: 2Lt. Daniel S. Wilson, 1944, Perry, Iowa


Lt. Daniel W. Wilson was one of five brothers who served in WWII from Iowa. Only two came home.

 Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II is available from Amazon in paperback, hardback, and ebook, also as an audiobook, narrated by Paul Berge.

It’s also the story behind the Wilson brothers featured on the Dallas County Freedom Rock at Minburn, Iowa. 



    • Dan Wilson wasn’t discovered in Austria until months after he’d been buried there–by a British Graves Registration team. They sent information to the Americans, who sent another team who confirmed information with local officials. That’s why his parents didn’t get word that he’d indeed been killed the day he was MIA until January 1946–the same week they were notified that Dan’s brother Dale Wilson had been officially declared dead. (Their younger brother had been killed in Texas when his plane exploded the day the second atomic bomb was dropped.) The war never did end for family members.

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