“Our simple and sincere bonds of friendship toward the people of the United States of America are especially dear to our hearts whenever we remember the wives and mothers and children of the men who rest in our soil,”
writes the Grand Duchess of Luxembourg,Charlotte
***image1***The Luxembourg American Military Cemetery, honoring American troops killed in action toward the end of World War II, is a place of stark contrasts.
It is, at once, beautiful and painful, inspirational and sad. It touches the deepest emotions and evokes conversation and contemplation from its visitors.
The pristine grounds, mostly covered with rich, vibrant green grass and thick hedges, are delicately manicured. Surrounded by thick spruce, beech and oak trees, they are a spectacular and immaculate setting for the 5,076 sterling white crosses and stars of David, immaculately and scrupulously positioned with military-like precision.
Most of the dead were killed north and east of Luxembourg in late 1944 and early 1945, as American troops pushed toward the Rhine River.
“It really reinforces the idea that America takes care of its Soldiers and its troops,” said Keith Stadler, cemetery assistant superintendent in training. “They’re not forgotten once the war is over. It also reinforces the level of commitment America has for its allies. When you see the number of Soldiers laying in the field who died to liberate this country, it leaves quite an impression with you.”
Mr. Stadler’s words are timeless and cut across military and civilian lines, as well as age and nationality. This is evidenced by words from three people, a native Luxembourger, a civilian from Kansas and an Army Soldier who’s spent time in Iraq.
“Our simple and sincere bonds of friendship toward the people of the United States of America are especially dear to our hearts whenever we remember the wives and mothers and children of the men who rest in our soil,” writes the Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, Charlotte, in a note dated July 4, 1960, which is displayed in the cemetery’s visitor center. “The Luxembourg Memorial makes us understand and honor their sorrow as well as their pride.”
“A lot of sacrifice for a lot of people they never knew,” said Kim Joyce, a Derby, Kansas, resident, on a recent visit.
“You take pride in what these people did for us and to be able to pay your respects … , ” said Sgt. First Class Jeffrey Troxel, with the 21st Theater Sustainment Command near Kaiserslautern, who was unable to finish his sentence. “Being an Iraqi veteran, it makes me very proud to be a Soldier. It just amazes me how many people have died for our country over the years.”
One of the graves draws a particularly large number of visitors. “Old Blood and Guts,” Gen. George Patton, who died Dec. 21, 1945, lies toward the front of the cemetery, centered at the top of the other markers.
Closer to the entrance are two stone pillars bearing 371 names of military members who are missing in action. The pillars also give brief histories of the Allies’ push across France toward Germany, the Germans’ last major counterattack (the “Battle of the Bulge”) and the eventual Allied victory.
Ironically, a few kilometers from the American cemetery lies another military cemetery, a Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof.
There lie almost 11,000 German soldiers killed in the surrounding area, some of whom, no doubt, died in the German offensive that began Dec. 16, 1944.
Visitors notice that many of the crosses bear the names of two, three, even four soldiers. Often, their ages do not go much past 18. Some, like their American counterparts, hold the remains of unidentified soldiers.
One grave, in particular, is a harsh testament to Hitler’s manic desperation to continue the war. Johann Lechtenberg’s grave shows he was born on December 21, 1927 and died Dec. 17, 1944, four days shy of his 17th birthday and four and a half months shy of Germany’s surrender.
According to the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge e.V., an organization that cares for German military cemeteries in almost 100 countries, 4,829 Soldiers are buried in a mass grave.
The American cemetery, about a one-and a-half hour drive from Ramstein Air Base, is open year-round from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except Christmas and New Year’s Day. For more information on both cemeteries, call (352) 431727, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the American Battle Monuments Commission at www.abmc.gov.
(Sergeant Brown, a public affairs specialist with the Air Force Reserve’s 442nd Fighter at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., was recently on temporary duty with the 435th Air Base Wing’s public affairs office.)