Thanks to Covid-19, many Memorial Day activities are canceled or look different. With so many places still closed, it’s the perfect opportunity to reevaluate what Memorial Day is really about. Since I cannot attend my usual activities, I will reflect on our time overseas. Seeing other countries honor our military gave me a renewed appreciation of the meaning of the holiday.
Read more to understand the history of Memorial Day: https://www.pbs.org/national-memorial-day-concert/memorial-day/history/
Observing Memorial Day abroad
Because of my husband’s career in the U.S. Air Force, our family had the opportunity to live overseas in Europe twice. Our second overseas tour was to Belgium where he was the commander of the 424th Air Base Squadron stationed at Chievres, Belgium. Public Affairs would often ask him to attend and participate in memorial services. Many of these events coincided with the day and place a plane crashed during World War II.
Europeans do a great job observing US history in their backyards. During World War II, Chievres Air Base saw activity. Planes flew in and out of Chievres for months supporting their allies. Unfortunately, some aircraft crashed in the surrounding countryside. Those communities to this day still hold ceremonies to memorialize the heroes that sacrificed for their freedoms.
On occasion we had activities at the many American cemeteries scattered throughout Europe. While we have been to Arlington Cemetery in the DC area there is something breathtaking about seeing the American cemeteries on foreign land. What is truly remarkable is how our allies honor and memorialize American soldiers. These cemeteries while paid for and monetarily maintained by the American Battles Monuments Commission (https://www.abmc.gov/cemeteries-memorials), are visited by foreign and local visitors. Some cemeteries have adoption programs that allow local people to adopt an American soldier’s grave.
Celebrating American heroes in Normandy
We also had the opportunity to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the invasion at Normandy. To walk the beaches that many of our country’s men stormed and died on is humbling. But what struck me the most was how the many non-Americans were there celebrating, honoring, and depicting roles of American soldiers. When tourists found out we were Americans they enthusiastically thanked us and wanted to share their stories and appreciation. How can you not be moved by other citizens celebrating what your countrymen did for them?
Not the usual Memorial Day
So, your usual cookout, camping trip or other 3 day weekend looks different this year? That’s okay. Maybe we have gotten out of hand with our celebrations. Hopefully this year, we can focus on what Memorial Day represents. This might be the year that it really sinks in for you. It finally hit me when and where I least expected. Standing on foreign soil was when I understand what Memorial Day truly meant. I hope you experience the true meaning of Memorial Day this year. Thank you to all who answered the call and ultimately gave their lives so that we could live a life in freedom.
A man’s country is not a certain area of land, of mountains, rivers, and wood, but it is a principle, and patriotism is loyalty to that principle. George William Curtis