It is Veterans Day.
Ninety-six years ago, the Great War, World War I, or the war to end all wars, ended. Before the war ended, millions of young men lay dead, wounded, or maimed for life. For France, England, and Germany the sacrifice was immense – a lost generation. We Yanks were late coming to the conflict and lost over a hundred thousand young men – slightly less than the population of Naperville, the city where I teach. War is awful!
As an adolescent, I enjoyed reading and learning about the Second World War. So much so, that I ended up with my first university degree in history. My favorite movies were war movies – Patton, Tora-Tora, and A Bridge Too Far. As a young adult, I remember watching the classics: From Here to Eternity and In Harm’s Way. Then, I read Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk that further romanticized war and armed conflict. Each movie, book, or story made war appear exciting, but war is awful and it leaves its scars on everything it touches.
It finally struck me how awful war was during a visit with my dad, who was living in France, in May 1997. My dad had rented a car for our trip and drove us northeast out of Paris to Belleau Wood, France. Belleau Wood is a tiny town which a hundred years ago was the edge of hell. It was the front line between German territory and Allied territory. Beginning in May 1918, it was where American marines fought the Battle of Château-Thierry. It was the first major battle for the American forces under General John J. “Blackjack” Pershing. Americans suffered over 8,000 casualties in the battle. Dad’s destination was the Aisne-Marne American cemetery and the Belleau Wood Monument. In 1918, it was hell; in 1997, it was eerily peaceful. I do not remember how long we stayed, but it made an indelible impression. The white marble crosses marking each grave with the fallen’s name, rank, the state from where each entered the service, and the date of death. Crosses all perfectly aligned in every direction.
Aisne-Marne American Cemetery is the final resting place and memorial for 2,289 American marines, soldiers, and another 1,060 whose remains were never found.
A few days before, Dad had driven us to Normandy where we visited the landing beaches of D-Day -June 6, which I had read about as a kid. We also visited the Normandy American Cemetery, possibly the most well-known of all the 25 American overseas cemeteries.
On our last Sunday in Paris, my wife and I attended the Memorial Day service at Suresnes American Cemetery on the western edge of Paris. It was a moving ceremony honoring the sacrifice of those at rest.
Since my visit in May 1997, I have continued to honor America’s service men and women. I especially recognize their ultimate sacrifice as our nation observes their sacrifice and honors them each Memorial Day and Veterans Day.
In June 2010, almost a year after my dad passed away, I returned to France to visit the Aisne-Marne Cemetery and Belleau Wood Monument. My dad served in the Marine Corps from 1953-56, and that trip was his final homecoming.
This past summer my father-in-law passed away; he served in the Navy from 1944-46. I spent many Memorial Days watching my father-in-law march in the Decoration Day parade in Versailles, Ohio. It was his way of honoring his comrades in arms, who sacrificed by serving their country, and to those who had fallen — giving their all.
Both men contributed and shaped me into the man I have become, and I honor them today for what they have done for me. I also honor all American soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, and coast guardsmen who served, and still serve, America so that I and all Americans might live freely.
Several weeks ago, I had an idea. I have ideas all the time, some die before I can bring them to life but this idea was different. The American Battle Monuments Commission maintains and manages the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, Normandy American Cemetery, Suresnes American Cemetery, and 22 other American cemeteries in 10 countries where over 200,000 American service members lay at rest. The ABMC maintains a Facebook page and each day they post a photograph of an American service member’s headstone and final resting place. They also post photographs of families who return to honor a relative, and post reminders about Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day services at their cemeteries. My idea was to compile a presentation of all the ABMC photographs from January 1 to November 11. I realized that I needed help; so I phoned the ABMC and I spoke to Tim Nosal, the Director of Public Affairs. He put me in touch with Sarah Hermann to whom I explained my idea. She was able to provide me with the needed photos; then I was able to produce the video below. I am grateful for their help.
The purpose behind the video was to share it with my students and I did so yesterday. It was a great lesson and the video served its purpose – it made my eighth graders think beyond themselves, for a moment. There are 315 headstones with three women among them.
The ABMC has an amazing website and I searched their database. There are 189 service members who were killed that final day of World War I and lay at rest in northern France, Belgium, and the United Kingdom. Among them is Cpl. Joseph Liechty, U.S. Army. May we never forget Cpl. Liechty’s sacrifice, or the other millions of service members who served.
I hope you were able to watch the video. I shared it with the ABMC and they posted it to their Facebook page. I was honored, but more humbled by the sacrifice of the many so that I can live freely.
Today is gonna be a great day. It already is. And if I’m not careful the day will pass me by, so I’d better jump up, jump in, and seize the day. Making the Days Count, one day at a time.
May we never forget the sacrifice of our men and women who have served and fallen for our country. Veterans Day 2014