This week before Memorial Day I am in Germany for the deposition of a client. I have always said that we’ll go anywhere for a client, but this is a record. The case is actually pending in Virginia, but it was much easier on the client (an Air Force spouse) for me to travel to her in Germany.
I stayed in a little town near the Landstuhl hospital where the deposition will take place. After a basically sleepless night on the airplane and a six-hour time change, I knew that if I didn’t keep moving I would really screw up my body clock, so after dinner I went for a walk around Kindsbach. It’s a pretty place and, of course, when I saw the sign pointing to the cemetery, I had to go look. Not surprisingly, I found a monument to the dead soldiers of both World Wars.
What struck me immediately was the image of an angel with a broom. I have never seen that before. It’s not your typical monument, but I guess one has to consider the German context. The simple image was actually quite moving – chilling, really. More chilling, however, were the names listed on the monument. From World War I there were seventeen names of the fallen. Considering the size of the town now, that was a lot. World War II had well over 100 dead, and on the other side another 30-40 were shown as missing. I am sure this town was not an outlier. In our country, those kinds of casualty rates are simply beyond our conception. Maybe in parts of the south during the Civil War you might have seen something similar.
So how does all this connect to our own Memorial Day? I am certainly not going to equate the Germans’ honoring of their war dead to what Memorial Day is about in our country. No, what struck me in this cemetery is just how lucky we are. In our history we have never been invaded, let alone conquered, by a foreign power. Europe, Africa and Asia have seen repeated wars, invasions and occupations in the same period that our nation has existed. We have been spared that. We fought a very bloody civil war, but let’s face it, that was our own failing as a culture.
There are many reasons why our nation has been protected. Geography is, of course, no small factor. But a bigger factor is that men and women have been willing to fight to protect our society. No small number paid the ultimate price and on Memorial Day we remember and we honor those sacrifices.
As I stood in that cemetery on a cool German evening, it also hit me that Americans had also fallen and died nearby – perhaps within a stone’s throw of where I stood. True, they would have died conquering Germany in 1945, but more importantly their sacrifice was for us. They were protecting our country. For all the ridiculous rhetoric and embarrassing politicians, we still live in a unique and great nation. We should pause to remember that – and to remember those whose sacrifices have given us the freedom we have.