Shortly after I moved to Germany, I signed up as a volunteer for the Girl Scout troop at U.S. Army Garrison Schinnen in The Netherlands.
One of the most rewarding experiences I had as a volunteer was helping the troop place American and Dutch flags on the graves at Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten.
It was moving to visit this cemetery, not only because it’s a tranquil and beautiful place for reflection, but because it symbolizes the eternal gratitude and respect the Dutch have for these brave Americans who died liberating their country from Nazi occupation.
Of course, you will find other cemeteries like this around Europe from both world wars. I highly recommend visiting at least one if you’re traveling through Europe.
I also had the chance to visit the Luxembourg American Cemetery, briefly, on a one-day bus tour of Luxembourg City. It is worth noting that Sandweiler German War Cemetery is just down the street, perhaps a mile away or so. And the contrast between the two cemeteries could not be more stark.
The American cemetery is a place of beauty, reverence, and honor. The German cemetery feels dark and depressing. They both evoke powerful, but very different, feelings.
The only two places I’ve visited in the U.S. that evoked similarly powerful feelings are Gettysburg and Arlington National Cemetery.
Most of us have never experienced war firsthand, and we can only imagine what it might be like through eyewitness accounts, movies, television, etc.
But it hits a little closer to home when you visit sites like this.
It’s not only cemeteries, though.
I remember a weekend in Bastogne, Belgium, during a re-enactment of the Battle of the Bulge in 2005. It was freezing and snowy — similar weather conditions to what the men experienced during this battle.
War-era Army Jeeps rumbled through the streets of town. Everywhere you looked, there were re-enactors in uniforms representing both sides. But there were no exploding shells. No bombed-out shells of buildings. No smoke. No machine gun fire. No bodies. No blood. No way to get a real sense of what the Battle of the Bulge was like, and thank goodness for that.
I cannot imagine the true horror and the true cost of war, but I am grateful every day for the courage of the men and women of our armed forces who are willing to sacrifice their lives to stand up to injustice and evil.
What a different world it would be without them.
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