We left Bastogne this morning and headed to the Henri Chapelle cemetery in Belgium where 7989 American servicemen are buried and 450 servicemen’s names are listed on the wall of the missing. Our veterans participated in a wreath laying and everyone saluted the flag as our eyes gazed across a field of white crosses, with the National Anthem and Taps playing in the background. We then took the time to walk among the markers and pay our respects. The sun was shining very brightly, but the mood was solemn and somewhat heavy, yet peaceful. After we left the cemetery, we crossed the border into the Netherlands and visited the Netherlands American Cemetery where 8302 servicemen are laid to rest. We paused for a few moments in the memorial chapel for a student-led devotion to honor the veterans and to turn our attention to the faithfulness of God. We ended the day in Eindhoven where we will be staying tonight and tomorrow night.
While at the Henri Chapelle cemetery the veterans discussed their wartime experiences. They talked of the atrocities of the concentration camps and the horrors that went along with them. As they relived these hard times, they looked up and told us, “At times I didn’t know why I put myself through such things, but when I look at you kids, I know we did the right thing; you are the future….” It gives us great determination to think that these men who have sacrificed so much to keep America free look to us and see future leaders. They gave their all for us and we must give our all for them, that their sacrifices will not go unrewarded and let the gifts they have given us slip through our fingers. We are so proud of these great men and proud to be at their sides.
As thankful as we are to the veterans, there is still a lesson to be learned from the people we have encountered along the trip. At one point in our day, we stopped at a memorial which honored the first American soldier to be killed in the Allied offensive in the Netherlands on September 12, 1944. We were touched that the people of the Netherlands were so thankful to the Americans for liberating them from the Nazis. Over and over, through all of the regions in Europe we have traveled, the veterans have been honored and thanked, even with tears at times. Reflecting upon all the gratitude our veterans have received, we students have begun to question why more honor is not given to these men and women in our own country. It is more apparent than ever that it is our duty to carry on these men’s legacies to the best of our abilities and ensure that their actions and lives are not forgotten. Witnessing these places where our freedom was won by blood has challenged us; we have a responsibility not only to carry on the legacy of the veterans we are traveling with, but also to make the most of our “expensive freedom” by living our lives in honor of our American and Christian heritage.
Doug Melton and JaMarie McElvain