November 11 is Veterans Day. For some it is a day off work. For others it is that holiday that moves around instead of being always on Monday. But to some of us, it has a deeper meaning: the meaning of Freedom.
Veterans Day was originally known as Armistice Day. Why? Combat in World War I ceased on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. That was when the armistice took effect in Europe but a peace treaty was not signed until 1919. However, November 11 has always been considered the last day of World War I. (Ironically, it is also considered the beginning of the countdown to World War II.) President Woodrow Wilson declared November 11 as a holiday in 1919. In 1954 a bill was passed through Congress in order to give the holiday congressional sanction. Congress made one change to that bill. They replaced the word “Armistice” with the word “Veterans.” Hence Armistice Day became Veterans Day. In 1971, Congress passed another bill called Uniform Monday Holiday Act pinning all Federal holidays to a Monday and to comply, Veterans Day was moved to the 4th Monday in October. In 1978 Veterans Day was moved back to, fittingly, November 11th the day World War I ended.
Veterans Day has special meaning to me. I am a veteran and I worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs in the Veterans Benefits Administration. Being stationed in Europe I was able to visit battlefields and go to the American Cemeteries in Cambridge, England and Hamm, Luxembourg. I also went to the Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof in Sanweiler which is only 1.5 kilometers from the American Cemetery.
I hauled out the negative files and scanned in the photos from Hamm, Sanweiler and Cambridge. I apologize in advance as I could only locate 3 pictures for the cemetery in Cambridge. I am still looking for the negative files. Lots of moves over the years so I hope the negatives didn’t get lost in the move. But I hope they move you as my visit to these sites moved me. It brought home to me the cost of freedom and the price paid by those who died so that I may live in a country where liberty reigns. It also renewed my commitment to my country to help maintain that liberty.
General George S Patton is buried separate from the others. His untimely death and burial caused a great controversy at the time. The Army policy for burial was that everyone was buried in alphabetical order no matter their rank. The Patton family asked that he be buried separate from the other graves. They felt that there would be a great many visitors to the General’s grave. To follow the Army’s policy would mean that the graves surrounding the General’s plot would be trampled on and desecrated. The Army denied the request. The citizens of Luxembourg considered the General a national hero and thought the Army was being unreasonable. The government of Luxembourg approached the family stating that the country of Luxembourg would consider it a great honor if they could bury the General in a place of honor in Luxembourg City Cathedral. Faced with having egg all over its proverbial face, the Army decided to reconsider its ruling and would bury the General in a separate plot away from the other graves. As the Patton family predicted, there are many who visit Hamm to pay their respects to the General. Many stopped by his grave when I was there. But the Army did one more thing. . .
They buried General Patton at the head of the troops. His grave looks out over the rest of Hamm. There are 5,076 graves at Hamm. The majority are casualties of the Battle of the Bulge. There are 101 unknowns buried here.
The American Cemetery at Cambridge, England contains 3,812 burials. Most of these are either casualties of the Battle of the Atlantic or brought back dead or dying in bombers from the air war over Germany. This cemetery is also along a major highway and is bright and white.
Both of these cemeteries contain the remains of those who, as Abraham Lincoln said at Gettysburg, gave that last full measure of devotion. They rest in the surreal calm of their respective countrysides, visited by their surviving brethren, who are getting fewer and fewer each day.
While at the cemetery at Hamm, looking at the grandeur of this place, made me begin to wonder, “What of the vanquished?” What of the many German soldiers who fought and died, be it willingly or unwillingly, for their country. I say unwillingly because some were conscripts who were drafted into service. For the German conscript there was no “Hell no, we won’t go!” To not go brought punishment down on their whole family. So they went and died.
But the question of the fate of the vanquished still played on my mind. My answer was only 1.5 kilometers away from Hamm in Sanweiler, Luxembourg. Located here is the Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof.
And unlike the American cemetery where each cross represents one U.S. serviceman’s final resting place, there are four German servicemen per cross. And the crosses are a grey/black granite as opposed to the American white marble. Unlike the American cemetery, which is a monument to freedom and our willingness to defend others, the German cemetery is a monument to the folly of one man’s dream of the super race.
Let us remember those who gave their lives that we may live free, as well as those who live among us, on this Veterans Day. But let us also pray for the soles of the vanquished, that their deaths were not in vain. Their deaths should remind us that when we give away our freedom and liberty to a government, political party, or politician, we become nothing more than peasants subject to the whims of that government. Each cross in the German cemetery should also remind us how Benjamin Franklin cautioned that any people who were willing to give up liberty for safety deserved neither. Adolf Hitler was ELECTED! The German people gave up liberty and paid the price.
The white crosses and Stars of David at the American cemeteries in Luxembourg and England should remind us of the cost of freedom and liberty. Remember, freedom isn’t free.
Copyright © 2015 John J Campo