Last June I traveled to Luxembourg, Belgium, and France to visit various military sites, including a host of battlefields. I happened to be present at the bicentennial of the battle of Waterloo, just as I had been present at the sesquicentennial of the battle of Gettysburg.
I remember those visits well. Yet what impressed me most was the number of American military cemeteries in the area, commemorating the dead of World Wars I and II. I spent a good deal of time exploring several World War I cemeteries, including the largest (Meuse-Argonne) as well as the smallest (Flanders Field), which I visited first.
The Aisne-Marne Cemetery is located near Belleau Wood. You can see the edge of the woods behind the chapel.
Perhaps the eeriest moment during this part of my visit came when I traveled to a nearby German cemetery, only to discover that you could see the American cemetery from it:
As we moved through France, we came upon more cemeteries. Not all were to American soldiers, of course; that’s a story for another day, and I told part of it earlier this year in recalling my visit to Verdun.
As much as one wants to comprehend the ebb and flow of military operations, these cemetaries draw upon one’s emotions as much as they force one to think about what war costs.
We saved the largest cemetery for last, and for a particular reason. It was late one afternoon when we arrived at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, and so our visit was somewhat hasty, although I achieved my most important objective.
We often visit Civil War battlefields to see where men fought and died, but we often think of the battle itself. In these cemeteries, one thinks of the lives lost and the sacrifices made … something to remember this Memorial Day.