Usually, servicemembers who died while serving the nation are buried in cemeteries specifically designated to honor their service, like the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington County, Virginia. The graves of these brave soldiers were marked with tombstones. Meanwhile, the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France, where American soldiers who died in Europe during World War II were buried, have crosses as markers.

In the secluded stretch of the Estonian forest also lies the final resting place of Soviet-Estonian fighter pilots who were killed during the Cold War era. What’s striking and eerily unique about this burial place was that the graves were not marked with tombstones or crosses but with aircraft tail fins.

A Unique Final Resting Place

Just a few distances away from a NATO-controlled Amari Air Base was the final resting place of a number of pilots who flew under the Soviet Regime of Estonia that was in power until 1991. Before it was built sometime after 1945, the site was a former cemetery that was used for burying the casualties of war. From 1945 until 1991, when the Soviet occupation ended, the Amari Airbase served as the home of heavy bombers, then known as the Suurküla aerodrome. At that time, the aerodrome housed several Sukhoi Su-24 Fencer medium bomber squadrons that could possibly be the source of the many tail fins that were erected in the cemetery until today.

U.S. Air National Guard A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft assigned to the 104th Fighter Squadron, Maryland Air National Guard, arrive at Amari Air Base in Estonia, May 31, 2013. (SSgt Benjamin Hughes, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

There were also normal-looking and crude graves that looked just like any other historic cemetery. However, it was the graves of the military pilots that are marked with actual Russian tail fins that literally and figuratively stand out. Looking at all of them lined up makes it appear like a squadron of planes are somehow in formation and “flying” beneath the ground.

It is said that the memorial was placed a bit away from the actual base so that it would not crush the morale of the airmen working on the base whenever they see the reminders of their fellow pilots that were once soaring in the skies like them. No one would appreciate a constant reminder that you could be crashing down with your vehicle and end up underneath the earth just like those that were buried and marked with the tail fins.

Questions Left Unanswered

There were some claims that the fins were the very aircraft that these Soviet airmen likely died in, although it could not be really confirmed. The exact number of the pilot that has been laid to rest in the cemetery was also unknown because even though it was indeed the final resting place of a few pilots, there is a huge chance that their remains were sent back to their families for a proper burial elsewhere.

If this is the case, then that would mean that the cemetery was actually established to honor the servicemembers who sacrificed their lives for the country and its cause.

As for the tailfin markers in the Amari Pilots’ Cemetery, opinions are divided on whether they came from the very aircraft that crashed when these pilots died, as that would be a bit impractical if the rest of the crashed plane were still salvageable. There was also no evidence of some sort to confirm such claims.