I was expecting to have a completely un-American Memorial Day this year. After all, we still have work and school (we follow the NATO schedule), it is not the beginning of summer (we’ve got 3 more weeks of school) and there aren’t any big Memorial Day sales going on! We aren’t even having a barbeque.
Boy, was I ever wrong.
We had the privilege of attending the Memorial Day ceremony at the American Cemetery near Margraten, Netherlands. This cemetery has over 8,000 graves of American soldiers, sailors and airmen killed during World War II, in addition to a memorial wall which remembers those who are not in marked graves. The location is close to a number of major WWII battle sites including the Battle of the Bulge, the battle for Geilenkirchen, and Operation Market Garden.
Although I did not get to experience the entire presentation (in the interest of those around us it was best if we left before certain children got too restless), all that I saw was incredibly moving.
I was most impressed at the sheer numbers in attendance. The U.S. Ambassador was there along with other military and civilian leaders. As expected, there were some family members of individuals who are buried here. U.S. active duty military members were there along with some of their families. But most notable were the hundreds of Dutch citizens of all ages – children, teenagers, young families, older folks – who were there, most of them bearing beautiful bouquets of flowers to place on the graves.
Here is something that I found truly amazing: every single grave here has been adopted by someone in the local community. Out of appreciation for what the American servicemen did for their country, they take on the task of caring for the graves and placing flowers on them each year for Memorial Day. The bouquets were beautiful and their dedication was obvious. I was told that this task is passed down to the next generation when family members cannot carry out their responsibility any longer. This was the original purpose of Memorial Day, once called Decoration Day: to honor the final resting places of those who gave their all in service to their country.
Whatever your plans for this holiday weekend I encourage you to pause…and to remember.