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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Memorial Day, part one

For many Americans Memorial Day represents a day off that is celebrated with a picnic. Although I enjoy a picnic as much as the next person, for myself it is a day of reflection, to truly remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom.

While we were stationed overseas, I visited the WWII allied cemetery at Souda Bay, Crete. This was my first realization that unlike our soldiers today whose remains are sent home, in past wars soldiers were buried near the ground in which they died. While standing there, looking at the sea of headstones, my eyes filled with tears at the thought of a parent never being able to visit their child’s grave. It was at that moment I decided that every Memorial and Veteran’s day that I spent in Europe I would represent those family members and visit an American cemetery to pay my respects to their sons and daughters.

The next year found my family at the American Cemetery in Luxembourg France.
It contains the remains of 5, 076 American military members. The most famous of which is the General George S. Patton, Jr. gravesite.
My most memorable visit was to the American Cemetery in St. Avold, France on Veteran’s Day 2000. As my family walked up the gravel drive to the entrance of the cemetery we were greeted by very elderly (80’s and 90’s) French citizens dressed in their Sunday best. Some had walkers, but those who could saluted us and thanked us, as American’s, for their freedom.
That image will stay with me until the day I die.
The St. Avold memorial contains the largest number of graves (10,489) of our WWII dead in Europe. Due to its vast size I concentrated my efforts on the graves of unknown soldiers and visiting the section of family members who are buried together. The most heartbreaking headstone was of five brothers from the same family.

There are hundreds of American military cemeteries all over the world and I invite you to seek them out. At the very least, when the national anthem is played, take that time to observe these men and women in a manner befitting their sacrifice.

This post is dedicated to the following men:

TSgt Jeff Armour, father of three, laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

Maj. Troy L. Gilbert, father of five, laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

Courtney Edward Weissmueller, father of three, listed as Missing in Action while serving in the Vietnam War. An "In Memory" stone resides in Arlington National Cemetery and his name can also be found on the Vietnam Memorial, aka "the wall".

Thank you and may you rest in peace.


Miss Sandy said...

I came over to reread your post and it so heart touching. Not many people would have the forethought to honor those buried on foreign soil by visiting them. What a comfort you would be to those families if they knew.

My father-in-law served aboard the USS Halsey Powell in the Korean war. He was very proud of his military service in the Navy. All four of his sons followed in his footsteps. His second son was career military and retired a couple of years ago. His three children, two sons and a daughter, followed in his footsteps and they are all career military. One nephew just returned from Iraq and my niece is still there. She is married to a navy officer who is also in Iraq.

Your act of remembrance is particularly meaningful to me knowing that it could easily be one of my family members falling on foreign soil.

Andrea said...

Hi Laura,
I stopped over to visit to say thank you so much for visiting my blog. I also wanted to say what an absolutely beautiful thing your doing by visiting OUR fallen soldiers overseas.

Warmly, Andrea

Southern Girl said...

Hey, Laura... I just want to tell you how much I appreciate this post. I come from a long line of military in my family (and I served in the Air Force as well), and this post brought tears to my eyes. Thank you.

Counting Your Blessings said...

My boy will be 18 soon and we've discussed the possibility that he may be called to duty sometime. As a Christian, I know that the graves themselves are empty - no soul - just the remains. But as a mom, I think it would touch my heart to know that you may stand by my son's grave. God sees your kindness. Blessings... Polly

Rue said...

That was a very touching and beautiful post Laura. Thank you for sharing these photographs with us. I can't imagine not being able to visit a loved ones grave without going overseas.

God Bless our brave troops and their families.


ceekay said...

I was surprised to see Troy's headstone on your post. Troy was a friend of ours. He is sorely missed by his family and all his friends at church. Thank you.

Bonnie said...

My husband and I watched a program last night on KCTS titled Hallowed Grounds which showed 22 of the overseas military cemeteries. I had absolutely no idea so many of our men and women were buried overseas. I knew of one in France but that was it. It was absolutely amazing. One quick thing, though - I might be missing a detail but I thought the cemetery in the Phillipines, which has over 17,000 American soldiers in it, was the largest overseas military cemetery. One other piece of information I picked up from the special - one of the cemeteries has 879 (+/- a few) soldiers in it and the families in the town in which it is located has each adopted a soldier's grave and tends to it - has faithfully since its beginning, passing down their soldier to their children, etc. It was an amazing special and something I wish more Americans would watch. When people spend more time on Memorial Day honoring those soldiers - current and former - who are still alive, they show they don't quite understand the point of Memorial Day. I realized yesterday just how derelict I've been in my duties as a mother to teach my children exactly why we honor Memorial Day. I'll be making changes to our family celebration for next year that's for sure!!!

Susie Q said...

I suspect the five brothers are the Sullivans. They are the reason that brothers are no longer deployed together or at the same time unless absolutely positively necessary. So sorry that such a tragedy had to be the impetus for it...but I am sure they would not trade anything...thank you for this post.