31 May 2010

Memorial Day

Memorial Day: the beginning of summer, barbecues, long weekend, the swimming pool finally open...

Here in Belgium, Saturday was the commemoration of the end of WWII. As every year, we were invited to the ceremonies at the American Cemetery at Henri-Chapelle, about 10 miles from our house. This is only one of the many cemeteries for Americans who died in the Allies' drive through northern Europe into Germany and in the Battle of the Bulge. There are bigger cemeteries at Liege and Bastogne, but this one is big enough—7992 Americans are buried here. 7992 sons and brothers, fathers and fianc├ęs, comrades and friends. 7992 families not started, 7992 lives of hopes and dreams lost so that the people of Belgium could have their hopes and dreams. Here, in the Ardennes, where the battle raged, where the occupation crushed so many lives, people don't forget. Here, where people still remember seeing the GIs liberate their town or village, they don't forget. There are those still living who remember bringing the bodies to this hallowed ground. They looked at the faces of the fallen, those who had died to liberate them. They don't forget. Here, Memorial day doesn't mark the beginning of summer. It marks the end of hell.

Every one of the graves in this cemetery has been adopted by a Belgian family. The cemetery is cared for by the Battle Monuments Commission, of course, but what the adopters do is more personal—they write the families, they make sure that there are flowers on the grave on birthdays, anniversaries of weddings and anniversaries of deaths. If family members come, they're welcomed with open arms and provided with all the hospitality they desire. Adopting a grave is serious business. There's a waiting list.

Yesterday's ceremonies were moving, as always. Diplomats, politicians, soldiers from the US and Belgian Armies were there. Boy scouts, a motorcycle club from Liege, children from the local schools, families together. Hundreds of local people. WWII veterans, fewer every year.

It's the veterans who are the stars here. They're swarmed by local people who want photos with them, who want their autographs, who want to hear them tell their stories.

Whenever I see a military cemetery, I am reminded of the words of Shakespeare's Henry V on the eve of the battle of Agincourt:

This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.

He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian:'

Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'
...And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd...

NOTE: I don't know why, but I'm having a lot of trouble with formatting on this post. I'm using another browser since my Safari isn't working well. Maybe that's why...

'Nother NOTE: I happened to come across this story about the veteran in the photos above. If you click on it, you'll probably cry a little, as I did...


Denise said...

This is an amazing post Kate, thank you!

Carol at Serendipity said...


Just a beautiful post! Thanks you so much for sharing.

Are you using a Mac? I still use my Windows because I have so much trouble using the Mac and Blogger. I forget what I want to say by the time the pictures load!


Ciao Chow Linda said...

Such a heartfelt post and especially meaningful to me. We visited Bastogne, where my father fought during the battle of the bulge. Thankfully, he was one of the lucky ones to make it home alive. I love that piece from Henry V that I learned in a Shakespeare class (and saw in a play in NYC's Central Park years ago). Thanks for helping me remember it again.

The Gypsy Chef said...

What a thoughtful post. On NPR a commentator was concerned that Memorial Day in the States basically stands for sales and Bar-B-Ques. Parades Honoring our heroes are disapearing. It's nice to know that they haven't been forgotten in Belgium.
Thanks for a heartwarming read.

Mary said...

Thank you for taking us to a place so hallowed. Shakespeare's words ar as fitting as any prayer. I found your blog by chance, but I will return often. Have a great day. Blessings...Mary

Susan @ The Spice Garden said...

This is such a touching post ... you made me cry. My father-in-law came home from the drive up through Italy , crossing of the Rhine, and finally was in the reinforcements that came into Belgium at the Battle of the Bulge.
He was always so quiet about that time in his life ... as many are. It is such an honor to have the Belgian people keep the memory of all those lost. Thank you for this post, Kate.

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

What a wonderful post and touching story about Joe Lippi. I also think the grave adopting is absolutely incredible. What wonderful people there!

Juliana said...

Kate, great the pictures as well...very touching!

Kim said...

Thank you for this post Kate. It is heartwarming to know that people in other countries think of our soldiers and their sacrifices.

Barbara said...

Thank you for such a lovely Memorial Day posting, Kate. Very profound and touching.

Stella said...

I don't want to cry, Kate. I don't want to...not today (smile).
This is a sweet post, Kate, though I typically do hate war and military stuff. It's nice to see an area that was liberated though-very nice indeed!

grace said...

very few things trigger my waterworks more quickly than thinking about lives lost in battle and the loved ones left behind. tremendous post, kate. :)

Maggie B said...

As I came to the end of your post and the link to Lippi Jr, there was a lump in my throat.
We owe these heroes a huge debt of gratitude.
I'm glad you enjoyed my D Day post and if you do come to visit our beaches this summer please let me know. We may get to meet face to face after all?

zurin said...

this is a lovely Post Kate. Sacrifices made will always be remembered.

Sheila said...

Hello Kate - I was interested to read that each grave has been adopted by a Belgian family. My daughter told me that a visit to Ortona, Italy was overwhelming to her and that each grave was lovingly cared for. I believe there were flowers growing by each grave. What kindness so many years later. It's good to know the men and women who lost their lives will never be forgotten.