I wish I could go back in time to forewarn our soldiers’ convoy to take another route. They died in the snow on that frigid, December 17th day of 1944 at the Baugnez Crossroads near Malmedy, Belgium, It was called the Malmedy Massacre.
German troops, instead of capturing US. soldiers as Prisoners of War, machine-gunned our warriors to death. This massacre happened under the direction of German SS Major Jochen Peiper, Commander of the 1st SS Panzer Division. Eighty-four U.S. soldiers from the 258th Field Artillery Observation Battalion died in that horrific event. Forty-three survived.
In July 2018, I stood at the Malmedy Massacre Memorial looking at the weathered wreaths adorned with plastic red poppies and read the names of those who died. Eighty-four flat stones on the wall represent those soldiers. The memorial sits at a 3-way intersection, a grassy, small park-like area adorned with a star-shaped garden of geraniums.
Nor could I comfort the 5,076 American troops buried under crosses and Stars of David at the American Cemetery in Luxembourg. This vision hit me like a death in the family.
My family and I arrived at the 50-acre cemetery at 10:00 a.m. on a clear sunny day. Two officers stood guard by the wrought iron gates which were adorned with two gilded laurel wreaths. I faced a large monument and read the names of those soldiers missing in action. I turned around to see General George Patton’s simple white cross facing his troops…forever the General guarding and leading his men to a well-deserved rest! Patton’s cross, situated between two flag poles, simply read: George S. Patton, Jr. General Third Army, California, December 21, 1945.
As I walked through the rows of white markers, I stopped to read several inscriptions. The soldiers name, rank, date of death, and where they were from sent waves of grief through me. One cross read New York, New York. Did I know him, this fellow New Yorker? These warriors died the winter of 199 to 1945, most during the Battle of the Bulge. They were teenagers. I was six months old when they died. The carillon, near the monument, played American music as I took the slow, pensive walk on manicured grass, among the crosses. Two river fountains, with the likeness of dolphins jumping and turtles swimming, ran on either side of the graves. This somber setting offers peace to the fallen and tranquility to visitors who can only imagine the horrors, devastation and deaths of our WW II heroes.
D-Day, June 6, 1944 must have been terrifying for our young soldiers.
At Pont du Hoc, high above the English Channel, U.S. rangers scaled 100-foot cliffs with their mission to disable German tanks. What fears ran through this well-trained elite unit as they climbed to meet the unknown!
Utah Beach, another D-Day landing site for U.S. troops, now contains memorial statues to our warriors, a replica of the landing craft designed by Andrew Jackson Higgins, a museum and the beach itself. I didn’t want to spend my time in the museum, but instead needed to walk on the beach, retracing our soldiers’ footsteps. I tried to envision men, sent into war, piling out of the dropped front of the Higgins boat, not knowing their fate. The sandy narrow beach, nearly void of people this July 2018 day, was covered with seaweed.
Omaha Beach, where the bloodiest D-Day battle was fought, now had children swimming in the English Channel and families setting up picnics on the vast areas of sand, with a metal monument called, “Les Braves,” looming above them. From the beach, I turned around to face the hill. I saw a break in the shrubbery. Could that have been one of the areas the Germans fired from? Our warriors were sitting ducks on that wide-open beach with absolutely no protection. I struggled to picture what took place only to relive, in my mind, the opening scenes from the movie, “Saving Private Ryan,” showing the impossible nightmare facing our troops.
The thought of these deaths on D-Day ran through my head as I stepped onto the 172-acre hallowed ground of the Normandy American Cemetery, located on a cliff above Omaha Beach. I faced 10,000 crosses and Stars of David. These were teenagers, who now would be in their 90s. Forty-five sets of brothers are buried together at this cemetery. I couldn’t even imagine the overwhelming sadness their families felt!
Peering into the calming, lily-laden reflecting pool, it was difficult to look up at what lay ahead. It felt like I walked forever, straight down the main pathway lined with grave plots.
I read the inscriptions on the marble markers – soldiers from Virginia, Texas, New Hampshire and so it went, impossible to fathom this massive loss!
As I walked back, I stopped at the cemetery chapel to say a prayer. Would that be enough?
A 22-foot statue representing “The spirit of American youth rising from the waves,” overlooks the entire cemetery. Behind the statue is the Garden of the Missing in Action, where 1,557 missing soldiers’ names are inscribed.
On this Memorial Day, I pause to remember the brave young warriors who fought for our country and those who continue to serve and sacrifice for our every-day freedoms and wealth of opportunities.
Thank you! is not enough.
The United States American Battle Monuments Commission operates and maintains 26 American cemeteries and 27 memorials, monuments and markers in 16 countries. This commission meticulously tends to the cemeteries with its mission to honor WW I General John J. Pershing’s promise, “Time will not dim the glory of their deeds.”