In 2001, my friend Jim and I, and our wives visited World War I and World War II sites in Belgium, France and Luxembourg.
My father, at age 18, saw action in Belgium with the Highland Light Infantry, a Scottish division. Jim’s dad and my wife’s Uncle Herman served in two adjoining American divisions, the 79th and 89th during the Meuss-Argonne offensive which stopped German advances and led to the war’s end. Jim’s father was wounded and spent months at Le Mans in a French hospital. Herman was gassed and died upon his return to the U.S. at age 21.
We visited the American cemetery at Omaha Beach where 9,387 lie. All white tombstones face west towards the United States as is true of all 23 U.S. cemeteries around the globe. Both sons of President Theodore Roosevelt lie side by side; Quentin died in 1918 as an aviator and his brother, Theodore Jr., died on the beach at Normandy, June 6, 1944, during the invasion.
Near Omaha Beach is the Friedanpark German cemetery where 21,000 lie. The brownstone crosses honoring each grave are quite remarkable. In the center of the cemetery, a large cross is flanked by statues representing a grieving mother and father. The brown crosses here stand out as much as the white crosses at Omaha Beach.
At the U.S. military cemetery at Hamm, in Luxembourg, Gen. George C. Patton and 9,515 other soldiers are buried. The British cemetery at Tyne, near Paschendale in Belgium, contains 11,956 known and 34,857 unknown soldiers. This is one of the five cemeteries in and around Ypres where three bloody battles were fought (1916-1918) in which each of the three combatants, British, French and Germans lost close to a million men. A Scottish monument stands as a silent guard.
What struck us as we walked among World War I markers was the similarity to the markers at Omaha Beach; many stones listed ages as 18 to 22, the flower of youth crushed much too soon.
As we celebrate our Independence Day on July 4, let us remember a quotation by George Santayana, “Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it.”
Those two wars killed 13 million and 15 million, respectfully.
Robert D. Campbell lives in Newburyport.
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