May 24, 2018
On this Memorial Day, a day set aside to honor service members who died on active duty, may we never forget the more than 1.1 million Americans who have died since the birth of our nation for the cause of freedom. To those who have served or are currently serving, thank you for your and your families’ selfless service and sacrifice.
My gratitude for our service members was rekindled on a recent trip to a small and seemingly insignificant European country.
Just last month, while on a trip to Brussels, my husband and I had the opportunity to take a day trip to see Gen. George S. Patton’s grave at the American cemetery in Luxembourg (a small country southeast of Belgium with a population of roughly 600,000 people).
My husband and I knew it would be difficult to get a taxi back into the city from the cemetery, so we asked our driver if he would wait just 15 minutes or so for us to quickly see Patton’s grave. We offered to pay him whatever necessary for the additional time and invited him to come in and join us.
His response surprised me.
When we got there, the taxi driver turned off his counter and said, “I’m not going to charge you for this; I’ve wanted to come here for years.”
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.
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