Some of the most beautiful spaces in the world are filled with heroes and with sadness. Tucked away in small places here and there, tended lovingly, green and white, they are the final resting place of brave Americans.
A lot are better known. Arlington National Cemetery, of course, is the most famous and most visited in the world. It even has its own Metro subway stop. They had to put up a sign telling people not to picnic there. In 1969 I was ushered into and in 1972 out of the United States Army at Fort Myer’s South Post, which is closed and now hallowed Arlington Cemetery ground. Punchbowl in Hawaii is another that we and others have visited.
But there’s one such place in tiny Luxembourg, inside the capital city itself. It covers 50 acres near the town of Hamm, called simply The American Cemetery, where over 5000 Americans are interred, including General George S. Patton, who died in an accident, but fittingly, he was buried with his troops. To walk there is to spend time immersed in a dark time in history, to know the names but not the pain these brave men endured in service to their country. When you visit you can hear your heart beating, know total silence, and see more clearly, even through your tears.
I started as an accidental tourist and then spent the day, walking the rows of crosses and Stars of David. The names of young men, many in their teens, are chiseled in the brilliantly white marble stones. It seems a sacrilege to touch these markers, so I just admire them, walk slowly and reverently down the rows. There is a feeling about this place, of dreams stilled, battles won and lost, lives ended too soon.
On an early fall day at the American Cemetery there is no one else there, just a caretaker or two. The grass is still green, trimmed perfectly. My footprints disappear as I walk along, as if I was never there. But I was, and I can remember it now, years later.
We celebrated another Veteran’s Day two weeks ago. For many it’s just a mid-November holiday, a warm-up for Thanksgiving a few weeks later. There are constant headlines, 24 hours news networks, all keeping us inundated with news. It seems a time when America is truly at war, perhaps with itself, as well as enemies abroad.
I think to myself, which I often do. Why not swallow your animus; forget your partisan politics for one day? Separate your feelings about national and foreign policy from your feelings for the men and women sent to implement that policy around the world. Make this an overt manifestation of the often recited “support the troops” mantra.
If you spent time this Veteran’s Day in a cemetery where these heroes are interred, looking at the graves, I hope you remembered to give thanks. You may see others making a visit to this beautiful place to remember and to honor the fallen.
Take time, as I did, to tell them that you honor and appreciate their sacrifice, understand as much as anyone can, that the service was not always appreciated, but that for you, it is. Honor all veterans, but especially these. Be thankful to these men and women. Give thanks for freedom they fought and died for.
I do, every day,