(What appears below is something I originally wrote in the comments for this post. I didn’t want to have my voice be the focus on Memorial Day, but I did feel the need to add something in addition to the picture. The Wife suggested that I move it from the comments to the body of the post itself, now that Memorial Day is over. Since she’s always right, I have.)
So, why, on Memorial Day, did I put up a picture of a French war memorial? Well, lots of little reasons.
The first being that the Douaumont Ossuary in Verdun, France is the best war memorial I’ve seen for helping one contemplate the cost of war. It somehow translates into architecture, sculpture, and landscaping all of the somber, humbling, reflective feelings I associate with Memorial Day. I knew this was the picture I wanted to commemorate Memorial Day with — it just took me a while to find it. As soon as I did, I posted it.
Unfortunately, I don’t know that there are any American remains in the Ossuary. I was under the impression that there are — and since they just scooped up all the bones in the region and deposited them here, it’s not impossible. The crests on the outside of the building show the cities — including American ones — that contributed money to the building of it. Not, as I had thought, of the hometowns of the dead. The American cemetery is just a little ways northwest of here, so maybe there aren’t any American remains here, after all.
I decided not to change the picture, however, because Memorial Day isn’t just about remembering that American soldiers have died — it’s about remembering what they died for, and what their sacrifices have given our country and the world.
The Battle of Verdun lasted for almost the entire year of 1916 and claimed around 300,000 lives. Let that sink in for a few seconds and you’ll realize why the Douaumont Ossuary is what it is. In 1918, the American First Army pushed through Verdun with an Allied force under American command. World War I was now on its way towards being over. American soldiers would be back in France to push the Germans out again in 1944.
The Douaumont Ossuary is a monument to the horrors Europe visited upon itself in the 20th century… Until American fighting men saved Europe from itself. None of the war memorials or monuments I’ve been to here in my homeland have the same solemn grandeur as what you can find in Verdun because our country hasn’t suffered like that since the Civil War. Since then, our soldiers have fought and died in faraway places like France so that we won’t need to have a place like Douaumont on our own soil.
And our soldiers fought and died in faraway places because people Over There needed our help. So this Memorial Day, I suppose I’m mostly contemplating how American servicemen (and -women) have made the ultimate sacrifice not just for our safety and freedom, but a lot of the time for the safety and freedom of strangers in other lands, too. Which, I think, says a helluva lot about their character.