Monday, July 11, 2011

Fourth of July Weekend in the Company of Heroes, Friends & Strangers - Part II

On Monday, July 4th, MaryAnn and I picked up Frank and Garrett and headed to Saint-Avold, Moselle, France to the Lorraine American Cemetery and Memorial.  It was only about an hours' drive from Landstuhl.  MaryAnn had attended a Memorial Day ceremony there this year and remarked about how incredibly well done it was and about how respectful the French are towards our fallen heroes.

We stopped in Saint-Avold to pick up cheeses, bread, sausages, fruit, etc for a picnic.  That, in itself, was a fun adventure.  Thank goodness we only used a hand carried basket.  I'm afraid if we had used a shopping cart we would have filled it to the top! 

We had driven in what seemed like circles to find a supermarket.  Thankfully one of our paratroopers was able to use his land nav skills to get us back to the cemetery.

From this document I found some history and facts about the cemetery:

Lorraine is the largest American WWII cemetery in Europe
There are 10,489 heroes buried at Lorraine
Most of those interred at Lorraine gave their lives in the spring of 1945
151 headstones mark the graves of "Unknowns"
26 sets of brothers are interred side by side
There are 3 Medal of Honor Recipients whose headstones are inscribed in gold leaf.

We parked, gathered our picnic items and a blanket and made our way towards the cemetery.  We passed through an opening in an immaculately manicured hedge to the most breathtakingly beautify and peaceful sight.  The cemetery is incredibly well maintained and respectful.

We stopped at the Memorial Chapel first.

Inside the Chapel

Inside the Chapel

Just outside the Memorial to the south and north are the Walls of the Missing.  These walls contain the names of 444 men whose remains, at the time the walls were built, had not been recovered or identified. 

One of the Walls of the Missing

One of the Walls of the Missing

As time has passed a few of them have been identified and are now marked with a brass marker on the wall (see below)

The brass indicator that this hero has been identified.  What a blessing!

When we exited the Memorial building we were met by the deputy superintendent of the cemetery.  He is retired from the Army.  He gave us some history of the cemetery.  He also spoke about how the French community there is both supportive and respectful of the cemetery and the heroes laid to rest.  He spoke of an older gentleman from the village who comes to the cemetery most every day and walks completely around the grounds.  We were fortunate to see that gentleman as we were leaving at the end of the day.

As we were talking I mentioned that MaryAnn had attended the Memorial Day ceremony at the cemetery.  I also mentioned the work she does for Soldiers Angels Germany at Landstuhl.  The director turned to MaryAnn and asked, "Did you leave coins here on Memorial Day?"  MaryAnn replied, "Busted".  Then the director asked if she had left three.  MaryAnn replied, "You need to keep looking."  I love it!

We slowly and quietly made our way through the cemetery stopping here and there to read the names of the fallen and pay our respects.

MaryAnn, Garrett & Frank

The grounds

So respecful and well kept

In remembrance of the Unknowns

A few of the graves had fresh flowers on them.  The director had told us earlier that families order the flowers and ask them to place them.

We made our way to the shade of a very large tree near the back of the cemetery and spread out our blanket and picnic lunch.


After eating and without any discussion we each took some time to be quiet.  Perhaps reflecting.  Perhaps remembering fallen friends.  From time to time one or more of us would take a walk to another part of the cemetery.  All was done without planning and in complete reverence.

MaryAnn took the picture below.  It is one of my all time favorites.

After a couple of hours of quiet discussion about the history of the cemetery, thoughts of the fallen and general chit chat about those we know who have served our nation we began to make our way back to the Memorial building for the playing of TAPS and the retiring of the colors.  It was done so well.

Just as TAPS began to play I spotted the older gentleman who makes his rounds most ever day.  He stopped, leaned a bit on his cane and stood in silence as TAPS was played.  So incredibly touching.

We made our way to the car and headed back to Landstuhl.  MaryAnn and I walked over to the hospital to 1) get an idea of how many patients would be leaving on the medevac the following day and 2) check on the husband of a friend of ours who was brought in as a patient a few days ago.  We were thrilled to find our friend, Stephanie, there with her husband John.  We were equally as happy to learn that John's 2 friends who survived the blast were now in the same room with him and they were all alert and joking back and forth.

While on one of the wards I joked with one of the Wounded Warriors about him looking like the type who would want a pink blankets for his trip.  He responded that pink was fine but he'd really like a little purple in it, too.  Little did he know....

MaryAnn and I loaded up the cart and headed into the hospital to pass out hand made fleece blankets, travel pillows and duffel bags to the Wounded Warriors who would be on the flight.  We looked a little like Lucy and Ethel on our first trip in.

Ethel & Lucy

We finally made our way to the ward with mister "I'll take a pink and purple blanket" and I gave him his choice:

He was such a good sport!  Look at that cheesy grin!  We let him off the hook though and gave him a very manly red, white and blue blanket for travel.  NOTE:  I have this Soldier's permission to both take and post this photo.  However, I will not divulge who he is, where he was wounded or the details of his injuries so please do not ask.

After squaring away all of those on the Tuesday morning medevac to the USA, MaryAnn and I went back to the stock room in the Outpatient barracks and loaded up one more time.  This time we had boxes sent from a group of nurses in the San Diego area (I hate that I didn't write down the name of the group).  The boxes were to be distributed among the nursing staff at the hospital on July 4th as a "thank you" for taking such good care of the Wounded Warriors.  We stopped by the ICU and all of the surgical wards as well as a couple of other places.  All-in-all it took us about 4 hours but it was worth every second of the time it took.
MaryAnn and I headed back to the hotel with every intention of stopping in the restaurant and taking advantage of their late night menu.  We were hungry!  Alas, the hotel restaurant was closed.  Hmmmmm.....they usually only close on Sunday nights.  I stopped by my room for a few minutes then was going to meet MaryAnn and find someplace to grab a bite.  It was around 10:30 PM.

MaryAnn came knocking on my door to tell me that the owner of the hotel was having a 4th of July party and cookout on the roof of the hotel.  He, Gary, had thrown a couple of steaks on the grill for us and was expecting us.  So up we went.  Red, white and blue streamers, balloons, cups, plates, napkins, etc.  American flags flying everywhere.  Kegs of beer.  Wine.  Sparkling wine.  Soft drinks.  Steaks.  Brats.  Potato salad.  Slaw.  Bread.  Make your own ice cream sundaes.  Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!  Absolutely delicious!

So, just to review....I spent my 4th of July at an American War Cemetery in France with OEF XIII and X Veterans followed by the opportunity to meet incredible American Wounded Warriors at a hospital in Germany topped of with a traditional 4th of July style cookout on the roof top of a hotel owned by a Canadian with some of the greatest friends.  Does it get any better?

I remind myself every day of how fortunate and blessed I am.

1 comment:

JihadGene said...

It doesn't get any better than that, Leta! Thanks for sharing your 4th with us Norf Koreans, via your blog, LOOONG time!!!
Ruv Ya!!! JG ;)