Happy Memorial Day!
About the Author: Evan G. Reade is the U.S. Consul General in Strasbourg
Happy Memorial Day, everyone!
I hope that, wherever you are, the weather was nice and that you had a chance to kick off the summer with family and friends.
This is a beautiful time of year in northeastern France. The days are long and warm, and the fields are lush and green. The parks are full, as are the tour boats plying the Ill river past the Consulate General. It all makes it rather hard to concentrate on work! But Sunday, May 27, was a “work” day for me, although it was the type of work I love to do the most, as I had the great honor to participate in two commemorations to mark Memorial Day, one at the St. Mihiel World War I cemetery, and one at the Lorraine American Cemetery in St. Avold. Both were attended by several hundred people, and it was truly gratifying, and moving as well, to see how many peoplestill come out to pay tribute to our fallen countrymen, who nearly one hundred years ago, and again nearly 70 years ago, gave their lives to help free France and Europe from tyranny and dictatorship. I was especially happy to see a large number of young people participating in the ceremonies.
The St. Mihiel cemetery is just outside the town of Thiaucourt, and is the final resting place for 4,153 World War I soldiers. During my speech I commented on the fact that while the United States came late to the war, the men and material we brought helped make the difference that brought the war to an end. It was the first time the U.S. was involved in a war on the European continent, and for many of the young Doughboys who fought, it was the first time they had ever left their cities, towns, or villages in America. Others were recent immigrants, or the children of immigrants, and the journey across the Atlantic was, in a way, a return to “the old country.” They all came hoping to vanquish the enemy and to win “the war to end all wars.” Sadly, other wars have followed, and today French and American soldiers continue to do battle side be side to preserve the values we share: democracy, human rights, liberty for all. U.S. Air Force Major General David J. Scott gave an inspiring speech, as did former Minister Nadine Moreno.
The Air Force also provided a color guard, band, rifle team, and a fly-over by four F-15 fighters from the 494th Fighter Squadron. Following the ceremony, we all paraded to the nearby town of Thiaucourt, where cemetery Superintendent Michael Coonce placed a wreath at the town’s war memorial, and First Deputy Mayor Jean Claude Dotte hosted a vin d’honor.
The Lorraine American Cemetery is located in St. Avold, and is the largest U.S. World War II cemetery in Europe, with 10,489 graves and 444 names inscribed on the Wall of the Missing. During my remarks, I told the stories of two of the airmen who are buried there. One was a graduate of my high school, which lost 74 students in the war. The other was a member of the same bomber squadron as my father. I sought to stress in my speech that the men and women who fought and died in World War II came from every corner of America and from every walk of life. They truly are our greatest generation. They did their duty with dedication, fortitude and quiet bravery, and the fortunate ones returned home to start or resume their careers, raise families, and to bring to our country a prosperity that may never be matched. They were earnest, modest, and genuine p eople who did not glory in or boast of their incredible achievements. U.S. Army Brigadier General Michael Bills spoke of the origins of Memorial Day, and the U.S. Army provided a color guard, a rifle squad, a band, and troops, and the fly-over was made by a C-130 transport from Ramstein Air Base. Cemetery Superintendent Anthony Barclay and his team did a fantastic job organizing this solemn and inspiring event.
A huge thank you is also due to Ms. Lillian Pfluke of the American Overseas Memorial Day Association, Inc, who worked with the military and with the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) to coordinate both these ceremonies and who also served as Mistress of Ceremonies. She and I were both pleasantly surprised to learn that we attended the same high school one year apart and grew up a few blocks from each other! Small world!
And of course, the biggest word of thanks goes to the people and governments of France and the towns who host our cemeteries. The care, the love, and the honor they continue to show for our fallen warriors is unsurpassed and is deeply moving. I wish that every American could have the chance to visit one of these lovely places to reflect on the sacrifices made by so many, and to see the esteem in which they are held by our French friends. So if you happen to be visiting France, or Belgium, or Luxembourg, or England, or Tunisia, or Italy or anywhere else the AMBC maintains American cemeteries and monuments, do yourself and your children a favor, and take a few minutes to stop by. Other U.S. military cemeteries in the Strasbourg Consular District are the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery in Romagne-sous-Montfucon (WWI), and the Epinal Cemetery in the Vosges Mountains (WWII). For a complete list of cemeteries and monuments worldwide, go to www.abmc.gov.
Happy Memorial Day. Let’s never forget those who have given so much for us, and let’s also endeavor every day to help realize their dreams of a world at peace and safe for all.
Evan G. Reade