Together we walked through the blue gates adorned with gold wreaths, past the visitors center and into the main memorial space. I turned to take in the view and caught my breath. In front of us were rows and rows of thousands of crosses and Stars of David marking the final resting place for American soldiers who were killed in combat during World War II. My eyes welled with tears at the sight: 5,075 service members are buried at the Luxembourg American Cemetery, the majority of whom died fighting in the Battle of the Bulge or liberating Luxembourg from the perils of Nazi Germany.
We made our way to Patton’s grave and thanked our driver, Tiago, again for being willing to take us so far out of the way of his normal route.
He responded humbly, “No, thank you. I’ve been wanting to see this for quite some time.” Gesturing at the rows of headstones, he said, “Without them we wouldn’t be free.”
I looked at his expression and realized the significance of his statement. His eyes were serious; his face somber, he continued, “Europe was saved by America and Churchill — our lives would be very different if Hitler had won.”
All three of us stood silent, letting the thought sink in.
Standing in front of Patton’s grave next to Tiago, I realized that Patton and his troops were far more than the American heroes I had read about — they were young men, engaged in a cause far bigger than themselves and the country they served — who had liberated and defended humanity at its very core.
I cried that day.
Seeing our taxi driver’s eyes well with tears, I was also reminded of my experience at the Normandy American Cemetery. On our drive to Normandy Beach, we drove through a small village where the locals still fly American flags along with the French flag. They feel a deep sense of gratitude for American soldiers who liberated them from Nazi occupation 74 years ago.
Looking out at the Luxembourg headstones again with the memory of Normandy’s headstone-dotted fields, I reflected on all the Americans whose bodies are buried far from home, all over the world, who died defending the liberties of our fellow brothers and sisters. I don’t think we, as Americans, truly recognize the beacon of hope our service members in uniform are to people all across the globe. I know I didn’t — until I got to see it through the eyes of our taxi driver.