Understanding Sacrifice – Day 7, Lorraine American Cemetery

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Understanding Sacrifice: An ABMC Education Project. 

Matthew Elms

Singapore American School

Singapore

Lessons I Learned from American Cemeteries in Europe

After nearly two weeks in Europe, I have learned many life lessons by visiting American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) cemeteries in Northern Europe.  I thought I knew everything I needed to know about World War II by reading books, participating in discussions, attending lectures and classes, but I have come to learn lessons that, perhaps, can only be taught by the soldiers who fought and died for freedom.

Matt - Omaha Beach Sketch

Lesson 1 – Omaha Beach – The importance of Omaha Beach in American History cannot be overstated.  When the cards were down, and believe me, the cards were down, the American soldiers on June 6, 1944 found a way to win the day.

Matt - sand in stone

Lesson 2 – Sand from Omaha Beach – I had not realized that the sand from Omaha Beach is used at ABMC cemeteries around the world to rub onto grave markers to create contrast with the white marble headstone.  This way, people can see and read the words in photographs.

Matt - grave adoption

Lesson 3 – Grave Adoption – Throughout our travels we have met several “grave adopters” who place flowers, potted plants, and letters at their respective graves several times a year.  Some of these families have been doing this since 1944 and have passed down the tradition to the second and now third generation in their families.  I am embarrassed to admit that I have not paid honor in this way to soldiers buried in my hometown.

Matt - star of david

Lesson 4 – Winning – I am convinced now, more than ever, that the Allies had to win World War II at all costs.  The alternative, even a stalemate or truce, would have shaken the very roots of this world to its core.

Matt - forest

Lesson 5 – Freedom – The price of freedom has never been free and will never be free.  I look at the American flag, half-mast or full, and understand that I’m but a humble recipient of a most precious gift, freedom.

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Understanding Sacrifice Day 6 – Normandy to Metz

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Understanding Sacrifice: An ABMC Education Project.

Dunn Woods

Alston Middle School

Summerville, South Carolina

Normandy was the beginning of an end. The war did not end with the storming of the beaches of Normandy. That had been my narrative for far too long. “Allies take over beaches. Victory in Europe day. Now, let’s turn our attention to the Pacific.”  I learned the importance of talking to my students about how the Allies got ready for Normandy and about all the work that has to be done AFTER you get the beaches.

At the Normandy museum, I saw several photos of jubilant Parisians welcoming the Allies at the liberation of France. The soldiers were greeted with cries of joy and tears of gratitude. 70 years later, looking at those same images, I had a moment where I was in silent awe and reverence and cried. I cried about how painful war is. I cried about the dreams of a generation lost. I cried for the extreme humility I felt at being in the same place that many great men, heroes, had been before.

Dunn - Normandy Museum

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Understanding Sacrifice, Saturday

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Understanding Sacrifice: An ABMC Education Project.

Katherine Lorio

Westfield High School

Chantilly, Virginia

After visiting hedgerows in the morning, we spent the afternoon at the Normandy American Cemetery where many World War II soldiers now rest. We honored six fallen heroes with eulogies while there. The cemetery is serene and solemn with views overlooking Omaha Beach.

Nor American Cemetery

Normandy American Cemetery

On the way home to our hotel we stopped at the Commonwealth Cemetery in Bayeux, the first town in France liberated after the D-Day landings. This cemetery was quite different from the American Cemetery we had just visited. Some headstones had personalized inscriptions, others had flowers planted in the ground near them. From this cemetery one could view the Notre Dame Cathedral de Bayeux, a site many of us visited after dinner.

Notre Dame Bayeux

Notre Dame de Bayeux

The beautiful cathedral was built over four decades and has an impressive architecture. One of the most exciting aspects of the cathedral is the Bayeux Tapestry.

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Understanding Sacrifice – Day 5 – Normandy, What now?

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Understanding Sacrifice: An ABMC Education Project. 

Joe Boyle

Morrison R. Waite High School

Toledo, Ohio

What Now?

It was the echoing sentiment in my mind as I walked back to French researcher Jean Paul Pitou’s car from the spot where my Uncle Paul was killed on July 26, 1944.

Joe - 5

What now?

In 1997, I began researching Sgt. Paul Boyle’s life, service in the 331st Regiment, and death as part of my senior thesis at Bowling Green (Ohio) State University. That small paper kindled a fire within me to learn as much as I could about him.

As the wonder of the internet brought more and more documents out into the open, I fit together pieces of the puzzle throughout the 2000s: promotion dates, after-action reports, family letters, relatives’ stories, enlistment records, morning reports. All of them fleshed out the picture. But none of them gave me that last piece to make the picture complete: Exactly where was Paul, when he ordered his squad to hold their position, and was slain by a German sniper’s bullet?

For the past three years, as I have dealt with the Damoclean sword of a cancer diagnosis over my head, my research intensified. It was imperative I finish this, and quickly. In April, I went to the National Archives at College Park, facility. I found map overlays of Paul’s company’s position on the morning of July 26. An archivist helped me bring the box of map overlays up to the cartographic section. I placed the overlay on top of the map, and held my breath.

And there it was. In color. Definitively. The last piece of the puzzle. All I had to do was place it.

Around noon on July 20, with Jean Paul, the mayor of Auxais, and the farmer on whose field Paul died, I placed a sunflower near a ditch where two hedges used to connect.

Joe - 2

I rubbed my hands in that hallowed soil.  I took in the lush greenness of the edge of this fertile cornfield, interspersed with field daisies and lavender. I listened to the bees. Smelled the wildflowers. Felt the milkweed sting my hands. I cried; tears of joy for finally, after nearly twenty years of research, finding Paul’s spot. I cried tears of sadness for Paul’s too-short life. And to some degree, I cried the same tears a quarterback would cry after winning a Super Bowl, and deciding to retire after the game.

Finding Paul gave me a sense of purpose, and a sense of mission for a very long time. In the course of a late morning in Normandy, it was over.

What now?

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Understanding Sacrifice, Day 4 – Afternoon

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Understanding Sacrifice: An ABMC Education Project. 

Melanie Hunt

Morristown East High School
Morristown, Tennessee

Visited the Champigny-St. Andre German Cemetery in La Cambre, France. Almost twenty thousand German soldiers are buried here. The cemetery itself is very dark and relatively simple. It is littered with five cross groupings throughout amid the simple grave markers. The majority of the markers that are in the ground denote two or more German soldiers. The mound in the middle is the focal point of the cemetery and seems to keep vigil over everything. The large dark cross and two figures on both sides seem to be holding a silent vigil over the graves. All markings, sayings, and plaques are in German with no French or American translations.  This adds to the aura of mystery that surrounds this place.   The simple fact that the French government granted Germany the land and permission to bury their dead here is both puzzling and amazing. The ability of the French people to forgive the Germans is hard to believe. Melanie - 1 - German cemetery

The Notre-Dame Cathedral in Bayeux, France was a wonderful surprise. Halfway through walking down the streets of the shopping district, the towers of the church can be seen. The origins of the church date back to 627. The massive vaulted ceilings, coupled with the statues, artwork, and beautiful stained glass windows make this stop well worth an individual’s time.

The final destination of the day was to The Tapestry at Bayeux, France. The display of a 70 meter tapestry that tells the tale of the conquest of England in 1066 by William, Duke of Normandy is amazing and a must-see. The viewer is given a telephone device with a recording that guides one through the tapestry scene by scene with an in-depth explanation of each scene. From start to finish, the tour takes about 30 minutes and ends with a stroll through the gift shop. The recording mixed with embroidery immerse the viewer in another world. The fact that the tapestry is more than 900 years old and so well preserved serves to enhance the experience even further.

Melanie 2 - tapestry

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Understanding Sacrifice, Day 4

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Understanding Sacrifice: An ABMC Education Project. 

Maile Chow

Mid-Pacific Institute

Honolulu, Hawaii

I suppose I was expecting a portentous and foreboding place.  But the first thing that strikes you about Omaha Beach on the Normandy coast is the beauty of the shoreline.  It looks like a holiday beach—wide swaths of golden sand, sparkling water, seabirds playing at the shore break. In another life, one that is exempt from the history we are all so familiar with, the coast here would be marketed as a playmaker’s paradise, a quick getaway destination for lovers of sun and sand.  And yet, there is no way to extricate it, beautiful though it may be, from the war maneuvers that took place here over sixty years ago. This is sacred ground.Maile - Omaha2

As a child in the United States you learn about D-Day and Normandy practically by osmosis.  I cannot recall a time when I did not have at least a vague sense of what Normandy means to a U.S. citizen.  So it was with a bit of trepidation that I walked the sands there this morning.  Trepidation because one feels pressure to give the visit the import and sanctity it requires, despite being surrounded by people on horseback riding up and down the beach and runners in jogging shorts getting their morning exercise.  As we stood in the morning sunshine, a light wind curling around us, Dr. Cathy Gorn, Executive Director of National History Day, reminded us what she tells students when she takes them to Normandy.  It may seem sacrilegious to see the everyday activities happening on the beach, she said.  But we must remember that freedom to do those everyday activities is what our troops sacrificed their lives for.  This thought made me feel infinitely better about my visit and my first impressions about the sheer beauty of the place—I am just one small speck in the human universe, but Normandy can be mine to extricate meaning from, just as it can everyone who visits.

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Day 3 – July 16 – Cambridge American Cemetery

Thursday, July 16 – Cambridge American Cemetery

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Understanding Sacrifice: An ABMC Education Project. 

Amanda Kordeliski

Irving Middle School

Norman, Oklahoma

Our last day in England was an emotional one for me. We visited the Cambridge American Cemetery in the morning and I eulogized my Fallen Hero. This was the first ABMC cemetery I had visited and was overwhelmed at the site. The nerves I had for my eulogy presentation now gone, I was able to wander the grounds and just take in the experience of a World War II cemetery for the late morning.

wallmissing2

The afternoon began with a picnic lunch in a small area outside the Cambridge American Cemetery. I was still reflecting on the peacefulness and beauty of the cemetery and the attention to detail given to each individual name. There are 3,812 headstones in the cemetery. What I did not realize was the sheer number of names on the walls of the missing at Cambridge. These walls contain 5,127 names of servicemen and women that were never found. I spent a great deal of time on the long afternoon bus ride to Portsmouth just thinking of their families and the lack of closure I would feel if my loved one was never recovered. I realized it is easy to briefly scan the tablets or walls of the missing at each cemetery and focus on the thousands of crosses and Stars of David arranged in beautiful formation across a pristine lawn.  The graves are where your attention is drawn. The names on the walls are just as important and Cambridge, with its vast wall of the missing, really brought this home for me.

For me, the afternoon was peaceful and satisfying. I know from talking to the family of my fallen hero, Homer McClure, that no one was ever able to come to the United Kingdom and visit his grave. That I was afforded the opportunity to stand at his grave site and offer a few words in remembrance was humbling and emotional. There are 158 Oklahomans buried in the Cambridge American Cemetery and I was only able to tell the story of one of them. I wanted to think on all the others whose stories   still need a voice.

Wall missing

Wall of the Missing, Cambridge American Cemetery

amanda fallen hero

Grave of my Fallen Hero

 

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