Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day Challenge

We ventured to the Memorial Day ceremonies at two different Belgian cemeteries yesterday. The day started out with a trip to the Ardennes Cemetery, leaving Arleigh completely confused. "What is a ceremony?" He asked curiously. "Does it go around in a circle?"
Explanation after explanation seemed to be fairly unsuccessful. In the confusion of multiple conversations on the topic, he mistook "bury " for "marry" and eventually asked "What? They marry the dead people there?"

Folks, I've said it before. We breed brilliance.

I have to say though, I think Addie was making connections as she commented on WWII history facts that I had long forgotten. She noted dates on the crosses, looked for family associations,  (there are several sets of brothers buried alongside each other at each cemetery), and generally, she seemed to understand why we'd opted for a cheery day at a cemetery instead of the local adventure park.

Stella seemed to understand as well, especially once we told her to look across the cemetery and instead of crosses, imagine a soldier standing at every mark. Suddenly she was able to really grasp such a significant loss.

Overall, the first was a lovely ceremony. But honestly, we left feeling that a tribute was paid, not to the 5000+ fallen soldiers and their families, but was instead, purchased for the pomp and circumstance of the dignitaries there. There was security lurking everywhere and it seemed that most everyone in a sport coat also had a squiggly wire stretching from his left ear down his shirt collar. I suppose that's what you get when you're standing in an open field with a king, ambassadors, and various dignitaries.

We were frustrated with our children too. Arleigh found it exciting to run through the endless aisles of crosses. After sitting in the car for an hour to get there, he sprung from his seat belt , wound up like an Energizer bunny, setting a furious pace. Emory thought it would be cute to do handstands for the fallen soldiers and roll across the manicured grass. I can't help but to think the fallen would have cheered him on, but still- we wanted the kids to be more respectful.

 They were in good company however. There was a group of Belgian children who had a bug box in tow and seemed to be setting out for an adventure among the crosses to capture something fascinating. Again, I have to believe the fallen there would have smiled at the very thought. Furthermore, the Belgian school children who sang the national anthems were sweet, though we weren't able to see much of them.

As we strolled through the cemeteries of complete strangers buried there, it wasn't hard to make connections. We pondered what towns each person came from in their state. "Pennsylvania" or "California" simply doesn't seem quite descript enough once you start looking. We wondered what their personalities were like. Was this guy a bit of a comedian? Or a type A serious guy?
Do they still have family around? Were they married?

The day was beautiful, sunny and bright. The flags at each cross waggled in the wind as if the cemetery was full of applause. Yet due to the way the ceremony was conducted around the dignitaries ,we, to be blunt, left feeling a little empty. Proud fan fare conducted by celebrities just isn't what this weekend should be about.

Before long we set out for an afternoon ceremony at Henri Chappelle cemetery, which is located on a  picturesque ridge above beautiful, rolling, Belgian farmland. This is the final resting place for over 7,000 fallen service members, many of whom died in the Battle of the Bulge. The region is simply beautiful.

While strolling through the cemetery, we came upon a Belgian chap who had adopted an American grave. He volunteers to care for the grave throughout the year for an American family. His father was there, helping to take photographs to send to the fallen American soldier's family back in PA. The gentleman went on to tell us that as a hobby, he also uses a metal detector to find WWII items. He has successfully returned a sizable number of items because what he found had names on them. Based on the location of his searches, he has been able to identify the items and then contact the soldier's family in the US to return the belongings. He said he usually ends up speaking to the daughter or son, as it's not often that the wife is still alive. But occasionally, he has even returned things to wives. This conversation went on and we thanked him for what he was doing. Then his father made a comment that I may not soon forget.  "You know, I see the news on TV and I think sometimes that in America they think this weekend is about the BBQ" (Let me add that the way the Europeans pronounce BBQ is peculiar and my brain was stumbling just a bit to catch up and translate what he'd said) He continued, "For the Americans now, it might be about the BBQ, but here in Belgium, we will never forget."

This comment, even with the funny BBQ pronunciation, had a real sting to it. Although that wasn't his intention at all. He was simply trying to portray that Belgians will never forget the incredible acts of thousands of American servicemen who lost their lives protecting the countrymen of Belgium. About the BBQ though, he's right you know. Before prepping that zesty sauce, or mixing any sort of potato salad, we really ought to take a few moments remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. We ought to take a look at our holiday priorities and determine if the shopping mall 'holiday' sales are more important than an awareness of others.

In this 3 day weekend, we have 72 hours to prove him wrong. You have a choice. An opportunity, to take a moment to pay your respects to the fallen who have sacrificed to protect our freedoms and the rights of those beyond our borders. It won't cost anything but a little time and it certainly doesn't have to be a weekend full of pomp and circumstance. You can even still have a fab BBQ with all the fixins.  I bet you can even make that incredible Memorial Day sale before the shelves turn up empty. I tell you what, no one will even mind if you run through the cemetery, do headstands or take your bug catcher along. They'll just be glad you showed up.

 Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

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