Saturday, November 9, 2013

I Will Remember

In June 2004, I hopped on a plane bound for Eastern Europe as a member of a tiny little children's chorus from good ole downeast Maine. This trip had quite the impression on my 15 year old self. I'm thankful now that I kept a journal the whole time. I came home feeling a great pull to share my story and to express my gratitude to local veterans. After writing a piece entitled "The Memory Lives on in a New Generation" for a local VFW writing contest....things took off from there. Instead of having phone conversations with boys my own age, I was getting frequent calls from World War II veteran Galen Cole. He is quite the charmer and a pretty big deal in Eastern Maine...if you haven't heard of him you can find him on Wikipedeia (haha!!) and  you can check out the Cole Land Transportation Museum's website. http://www.colemuseum.org/  He is a special guy who I share some pretty great memories with.
With Veteran's Day fast approaching, my mind goes back to this experience and to the essay that I wrote about it 9 years ago (I had my Mom go in my closet in her house and dig it out! :P)

 The Memory Lives on in a New Generation

My whole life I have been taught the history of the wars that our country has fought. The seriousness and the reality of the topic never hit me until this past summer. I was able to experience the trip of a lifetime. I am a member of the Washington County Children's Chorus. We were invited to perform in Luxembourg to celebrate the liberation of the country during World War I and II. A few weeks before the trip we performed at the Cole Land Transportation museum owned by World War II veteran, Galen Cole. Hundreds of people gathered to celebrate the service of our veterans. Men and women who fought in World War II, Vietnam, and the Korean War reunited to remember their fallen comrades and to celebrate the lives that they had been blessed with. My fellow chorus members and I pinned carnations on those who were being honored that day. It was a very emotional day for all of us but we now realize that it was preparation for the weeks to come.
While in Europe I was able to talk to many veterans who fought in World War II, including Galen Cole. He traveled with us on our tour bus through Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg. Galen and his Luxembourgish friend, Gene Nichols, gave us a tour through the Ardennes forest. Gene had been a little boy when the Nazis invaded his home and took over his town and school. His stories were like something out of a book.  
At the places we performed, Luxembourgish veterans and American veterans stood to  share their stories. I found it extremely hard to maintain my composure while these men spoke. Raw emotion was heard in their voices, tears flooded their eyes, and their bodies tensed up as they went on about horrific ordeals that took place while they were each serving for their country. I saw men reunite with their American friends whom they had fought with and hadn't seen since the war. I remember one concert in a small stone church on a sunny day in the middle of the country, we sang "In Flanders Fields" and there wasn't a dry eye left in the room.
We visited the American cemetery located in Luxembourg city, Luxembourg. As I walked down the rows of white crosses, I completely broke down. The tears rolled down my cheeks as I thought about these men and boys who had families, lovers, homes, and future hopes and dreams that they planned to return to after they finished fighting in the war. Each white cross marking a mother's son, a brother, a friend, a cousin, a father. They didn't want to die but they did for the sake of their country and for the world. There are 5,076 American men buried overseas at this cemetery alone. White crosses neatly spread over 50.5 acres of land. As I stood beside the graves I asked one of the Luxembourgish veterans, "Why couldn't they have been sent home?" He replied, "You have to understand that most of the soldiers who are buried here stayed in our homes. They were like family, like our own brothers. They protected us and died for us. We fought together and formed a bond that can never be broken. I think this is where they would want to be." 
It's hard to explain the things I saw in Europe and at home in those veterans' eyes. Words will never do it justice. The citizens of Luxembourg treated us like we were famous because we were Americans. At one of our concerts, a veteran came up to me at the end and said, "thank you" and gave me an American flag. I will never forget the look in his eyes. I started to cry and he gave me a hug and made me laugh by saying, "Well, I didn't mean to make you so upset, beautiful."
I feel anger towards those who do not appreciate what the men and women of our country do every day and have done in the past. I was privileged enough to meet some of the bravest men this world has ever known. Most people don't realize the extent of the pain and grief. I recall one man said to me, "Nowadays you see movies that show a man's friend being shot down beside him and the man stopping and not leaving his friend. This hardly ever happened. You had to keep going to survive. You had to fight for the ones you loved and knew you had to return to them. Then for the rest of your life you think, why wasn't it me who died that day? "
I will forever respect the men who fought for the United States and those who are still fighting today. While in Europe, I met General Patton's granddaughter. It was she and Galen Cole who made me realize that it was going to be my generation that was going to have to carry on the memory and respect of these veterans. I will do my very best to carry on the memory of our brave boys.

General George S. Patton Jr. didn't die in battle but requested to be buried here with his men.
Photos from Wikepedia

I can't believe it's been 9 years. It's so strange to look back on it now and to read the feelings that poured out on that paper. I still feel strongly about it today. What I would give to be able to go back and take my camera with me....I had disposable cameras!! :(

Just over the tree line about 1.5 kilometers away, German soldiers are buried in the Sandweiler German war cemetery, with dark stone crosses instead of white. I wonder if there is an aerial shot of the two cemeteries out there somewhere.

Twenty two sets of brothers are buried side by side at this cemetery in Luxembourg. As a mother of two little boys, this is completely devastating to me...more now than it was then. Something I can't even begin to wrap my head around.

When you're at a high school ball game or any event where a flag is shown and the "Star Spangled Banner" is played...do yourself a favor and take those precious 2 minutes (max?) to stop and show your respect. Put your hand over your heart...remove your hat...face the flag and be respectful. If you see someone that you know who has served...say, "Thank You!!"

If my little man can give his attention...so can you!

Thank you veterans and your families for all you have sacrificed!! <3


  1. Thank you Rianne for the reminder to all of us that our freedom was not free. God bless America.

  2. That was as well written piece as I have ever read. As a Marine thank you for your heartfelt sentiment toward my brothers dead and alive and your obvious Patriotism and love of Country. To answer a question you had in your paper about why they couldnt have been returned to the United States for burial you need to understand first there was not the refrigeration available that there is today. Also there was not the air travel in the '40's especially with a World War taking place. The bodies of our American Heroes would have had to been shipped by slow boat and there was always the threat of torpedo attack.

  3. Thank you for your service!!! And I'm so glad you enjoyed it! :)
    I actually have done some research about the burial topic of this specific cemetery and probably should've put it on here but decided not to. I find the history of the cemetery very interesting.
    Originally there were 8,412 buried here in 1945. Then in 1948, there were 5,050 of the dead shipped to the United State for families who wanted them reburied there. The cemetery was then rebuilt and after the remaining bodies were firmly identified, they were buried in 500 pound coffins that were finished with bronze. At that point there were 1,700 American dead shipped from temporary burial sites in France and Belgium. That then brought the total to 5,076.

  4. Rianne, I have enjoyed your blogs of life in the woods of the State of Maine. Thank you for "I will remember", it is a very well written and touching tribute to the veterans of our nation.

  5. Well done Rianne. May your journey as a warden's wife be as successful as to what this blog has become. As I have travelled around the state speaking to countless groups of folks about the great career I had as a warden from 1970 to 1990, I hardly ever leave a setting when someone doesn't say, "Your wife should have written a book and told her story." I hope you one day, may considering playing that roll as an author and sharing your story as to how vital a "good and understanding wife, " actually is to those of us who have lived the dream as a Maine Warden. It would be a best seller, I assure you! Keep up the good work - and GOD BLESS OUR VETERANS for giving us all the rights we have today to keep such records.

  6. Thanks so much for the encouraging words, John!! :) We are soaking up every minute up here...knowing that it won't last forever!

  7. Rianne - Your essay was beautifully written! I felt like I was standing there beside you and tears filled my eyes as I read! I am so thankful that you and other young people from our community had that experience and so thankful for the love of our country that you have an demonstrate in your life!

  8. Wonderfully written, Rianne. Again I want to say it was very touching and I, too, felt as if I was standing there and viewing the sites with you. By the way I used to work for Galen Cole at Cole's Express in Bangor!! He is a very nice man.

    1. That's neat, Carlene!!! I didn't know that! And thanks. :)

  9. EXCELLENT job Rianne! I get teary every time I think of that trip and when I read your essay. That trip was the most educational as well as emotional experience of my life thus far. You are a better person for allowing yourself to truly understand and feel what was happening on that trip, what a blessing you captured in words how it touched you.

    The music was a powerful translator of all that happened during those 11 days. To witness folks in the audience of little churches throughout the countryside silently crying during patriotic song after song was almost unbearable. One of the most poignant moments was the chorus singing the Luxembourgish national anthem for the locals and their astonishment that school children knew their song! As Americans we hear our national anthem frequently, to the point of it almost being repetitious. These people seemed to hear it for the first time from the child relatives of those service men who gave their lives to protect and liberate them, and their future generations! Men who as you said lived in their homes, became their guests and what they believed their salvation from Hitler. I am so grateful I was there to witness these things with you! Even if I didn't sleep for days, lol! It was well worth it!! I am so proud of you! Love, Mom

    1. awww I'm just seeing this! <3 love you!!!