to perpetuate the memory and history of our dead

34.15 No US there

With apologies to William Holden, no US military members were involved in building the famous Bridge! If fact, may people are surprised that there were any Americans involved at all. This is partially due to the fact that there are no US graves at any of the CWGC TBR cemeteries.

For reasons known only to them, the US War Department (prior to the Department of Defense; DOD) decided to repatriate the US personnel to their families. As their remains were collected by the Australian searcher teams, they were temporarily buried in the NE corner of the Don Rak site in the area where the office and garage are presently located. Once all 131 had been collected, they were moved to India where US personnel processed the remains and began the search for next of kin. By 1948, all but 19 had been returned to the USA. Those that were not claimed were moved to the National Military Cemetery at Pearl Harbor known as the Punch Bowl.

There is another factor that would have complicated the interment of the US POWs who worked the TBR. The vast majority of them worked in Burma and only moved to Thailand after the construction was complete. That means that 80 of the 131 would have been sent to the Thanbyuzayat CWGC cemetery based on their place of death. Of course, no one knew at the time that within a few decades that cemetery would become extremely difficult to visit for both political and infrastructure reasons. In hindsight, the decision to return the remains to their families was a good one.

I am always on the lookout for the outliers or unique stories. It seems that there is indeed one US citizen buried in the Thanbyuzayat CWGC cemetery. Grave D1-H-5 belongs to Franklin G Goedel, who died in Jan 1944 at the Changaraya POW camp near the Thai-Burma border. But at the time he was an infantryman in the KNIL (the Dutch Colonial Army). He and the other US personnel had been taken as POWs on Java in March 1942. He had most likely been sent to work on the TBR in Burma along with most of the US, Australian and Dutch POWs from Java. This is borne out by the fact that he was buried in the Thanbyuzayat CWGC cemetery.

To complicate matters even more. there was another American citizen serving in the British Army with the 12th Frontier Force Regiment in Malaya. He was captured at Singapore and sent to Thailand where he served with LtCol Toosey building the two bridges at ThaMaKam. In Jan 1943, he was one of six men who attempted to escape and make their way to China. They lasted only a few weeks in the mountains before being recaptured. All 6 were executed. It was common practice by the IJA not to allow their fellow POWs to bury those who had been executed.

Per a family member, his brother came to Thailand soon after the war and with the help of some Thais, found his grave near the Kanchanaburi camp and returned his remains to the US where he is buried in a private family plot in New Jersey.   

So with the lack of a visible American presence in Thailand today, the only reminder is a memorial plaque placed by fellow veterans of the US Veterans of Foreign Wars near the famous iron bridge.