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)
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.|
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!|