Over 10,000 servicemembers dead. 10,489, to be exact.
As I gazed across endless fields dotted with precise rows of grave markers, I choked back a sob. My husband looked at me. It wasn’t like I knew any of the dead or was related in some way. But still…each grave signified someone’s husband, son, brother, grandchild, uncle, cousin, friend…
I could barely take in this visual reminder of the loss of life. We were attending the 2009 Memorial Day ceremonies at the Lorraine American Cemetery in St. Avold, France, where the largest number of American servicemembers killed in Europe during WWII have been laid to rest.
On each grave fluttered two small flags, one American and one French, placed there earlier by schoolchildren. I couldn’t take my eyes off the gleaming rows of marble crosses and Stars of David. Each one was someone, not a number. As a military spouse, one of my greatest nightmares was the thought of losing my own husband to war. And yet, here the earth offered up a stark reminder of what had happened so many years before, pleading that we not forget this loss.
Etched on the chapel wall at the Lorraine Cemetery are the words:
HERE WE AND ALL WHO SHALL HEREAFTER
LIVE IN FREEDOM
WILL BE REMINDED THAT TO THESE MEN AND THEIR COMRADES
WE OWE A DEBT TO BE PAID.
WITH GRATEFUL REMEMBRANCE OF THEIR SACRIFICE
AND WITH HIGH RESOLVE THAT
THE CAUSE FOR WHICH THEY DIED SHALL LIVE
The cause for which they died shall live…
I can love without hesitation. Life is short. We all say that without thought. Yet seeing the grave inscriptions at the Lorraine American Cemetery was a jolting reminder of how young most of the soldiers are who are buried there. They had lives, fiances, wives, children back home. I’m certain most of them thought they had years in front of them, had made plans for when they would return home, and expected to live out their days.
The hard truth, “we all know that we’re dying but none of us live like we believe it,” is something that comes to mind. None of us are guaranteed another tomorrow. So I will take the time to let those around me know how important they are to me and never let an opportunity pass when I could say, “I love you.”
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).
After that day at the Lorraine Cemetery, I of course went back to my regular life and got too quickly caught up in daily checklists, meetings, and the hundreds of little worries and tasks that make up any day. But every so often, I would stop and remember. I’d remember the sacrifice. Remember what they’d given. Remember their families, who had to learn to carry on without the ones they loved.
This is an excerpt from Jen’s new book. You can find more from Jen on her podcast at MilSpouse Matters and her blog.