Monday, May 25, 2009

My Memorial Day

We live next to a cemetery. It wasn’t a huge selling point when we bought this house (some of the kids have zombie issues) but it’s really not a bad neighbor. Today especially, it’s beautiful to see. Right now there are several large American flags flying and many of the graves have small flags as well. For us it’s a good reminder that this day was not set aside for sales or barbecues (though I’m a huge fan of both).

Last summer my brother and his wife took my parents and I on a trip to England, Germany, and France. As we planned the trip Michael suggested we find the final resting place of my mom’s uncle. Louis Edward Bauerbach, born November 4, 1890, was killed in action on November 1, 1918 in what was probably the single bloodiest battle in American history.

With a little research Michael found that he was laid to rest at Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, east of the village of Romagne-Gesnes, Meuse, France. It didn’t seem so far out of our way going from Baden Baden to Paris so we added it to our itinerary. When the time came we found ourselves without the map to get us from the main route to the cemetery and back. We were grateful Michael was able to direct us over the phone. It took us much longer to get to the cemetery than we’d planned for and it was almost 5 p.m. when we arrived. We weren’t sure what to expect or how we’d ever find the right headstone in the sea of crosses but at least we’d finally found the place.

We drove up to the main building and when we walked inside we were greeted by an American named Scott Desjarins. He offered to take us to Louis’ grave. It seemed a simple offer but it was so much more. We followed him by car to the top of a rise near the chapel, then walked down the rows till we came to the one we were looking for. Scott brought a small bucket with him and pulled out a scrub brush and water to clean the cross. Then he rubbed sand from Utah Beach into the etchings so we could see them in the photos we would take. He spoke quickly in French into a two-way radio and soon “Taps” was being played. It was very moving and incredible to think we were the first members of the family to ever stand in that spot.

When we were done Scott walked us to the chapel where he used a map to help explain how it all played out and why it was such an important battle. How the outcome helped define America as a superpower where once she was only a new kid on the block. The chapel was decorated with stained glass windows portraying American unit insignia. When Louis joined the Meuse-Argonne American Expeditionary Forces on September 9, 1918 he was attached to the Texas-Oklahoma unit. With a T O insignia, they referred to themselves as “Tough Hombres”. On either side of the chapel were walls lined with names of the missing dead. One panel on the west side contained a map of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Inscribed on the remaining panels were the names of the 954 American Missing whose remains were never recovered or identified and included those missing during our expedition to northern Russia during 1918-1919.

This cemetery covers one hundred and thirty acres and holds the largest number of American dead in Europe, a total of 14,246. Most of those buried here gave their lives during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. As we walked, Scott told us how it was a little sad how little attention is paid to this place by American tourists. A good deal of visits are paid by Europeans but it’s often overlooked by us. I admit we really didn’t have high expectations and only planned a trip there by chance. As it turned out, it was the high point of a trip full of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen. It beat everything.

2 comments:

  1. This reminds me of a visit to the American Cemetery in Luxembourg when I was in high school. At the time I didn't get the significance.

    Thank you for writing about the amazing experience you had.

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  2. Wow! Amazing experience for you and you wrote it in such a way I seemed to have relived it with you.

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