Powered by Blogger.

Paying Our Respects 70 Years Later: World War II, My Family, and the Luxembourg American Cemetery

 Paying Our Respects 70 Years Later: World War II, My Family, and the Luxembourg American Cemetery | CosmosMariners.com

I don't know when I first heard about my grandmother's brother.

I had to be very young because I remember always knowing that my great-uncle Ernest was killed in World War II. He'd been killed by friendly fire towards the end of the war, my grandmother had told me. On rare occasions, she'd take out his Purple Heart (which was normally kept in its box in the dining room sideboard) and let us see it.

Paying Our Respects 70 Years Later: World War II, My Family, and the Luxembourg American Cemetery | CosmosMariners.com
My great-uncle Ernest (on the right) in the only picture that my grandmother has of him
Even decades later, it was obvious to me that Ernest's death had greatly affected my grandma. After he'd been killed, he'd been buried in Luxembourg. We weren't sure why my great-grandfather had chosen to leave his son's body there: it would've been free to have it shipped home.

At some point, the idea of going to the Luxembourg American Cemetery began to be bandied about between my grandmother, my grandfather, and my mom. My grandfather was actually very close to my great-uncle Ernest--it was because of their friendship that my grandparents actually met. I imagine that my grandfather, who was a World War II Pacific theatre veteran, would have liked visiting his old friend one last time.

My grandparents were going to Germany and Luxembourg to see the grave back in 2001--but, just days before they left, 9/11 happened. They got spooked, canceled the trip, and never planned another. My grandfather passed away in late 2013 without ever going on that journey.

About a year ago, my grandmother began talking about finally going to see Ernest's grave. She wanted us to come with her, and our preliminary plans began to take shape.

As we firmed up our itinerary, it became obvious that my grandmother wouldn't be able to keep up. She's still in great health, but she has trouble walking long distances. About 8 months ago, she decided that she wasn't going, but she wanted the rest of us to keep planning the trip in her absence.

A month ago, my mom, dad, sister, daughter, and I climbed aboard a plane to begin our journey towards finally seeing my great-uncle Ernest's final resting place. After 10 days of working our way across southern and western Germany, we arrived in Luxembourg, and, on a foggy fall morning, we entered the golden gates of the American Cemetery.


Paying Our Respects 70 Years Later: World War II, My Family, and the Luxembourg American Cemetery | CosmosMariners.com

The superintendent of the site greeted us and took us around the cemetery, sharing details about the construction of the cemetery, the fighting in and around Luxembourg, and current operations.

I'd done a little research before I'd left home and discovered that my great-uncle Ernest had been a member of the 166th Engineer Battalion. He'd enlisted in mid-1943, been a part of the Utah Beach invasion (one of five areas that were part of the D-Day offensive), and had helped construct bridges and roads with Patton's army between Normandy, France, and Luxembourg City.

Paying Our Respects 70 Years Later: World War II, My Family, and the Luxembourg American Cemetery | CosmosMariners.com
Display at the cemetery showing the Battle of the Bulge
When he was killed in March 1945, he was only 2 months shy of surviving the war: V-E Day was May 8, 1945. Ernest survived the Battle of the Bulge, only to be killed when he stepped on one of our own land mines.

Learning these details about him made me feel as if I knew him a little bit. He died before my mom was born, so my only way to know him is through my grandmother's stories and what I can find through my research.

Paying Our Respects 70 Years Later: World War II, My Family, and the Luxembourg American Cemetery | CosmosMariners.com


As the superintendent led us towards Ernest's grave, I was sobered by the thousands of white headstones stretching out on the green grass. All of these men (and 1 woman) died thousands of miles from home away from the people they loved.

When we arrived at Ernest's headstone, I couldn't believe that we'd actually made it. I'd heard about this moment my entire life, and we were there, fulfilling a goal that my grandparents had wanted for decades.

Paying Our Respects 70 Years Later: World War II, My Family, and the Luxembourg American Cemetery | CosmosMariners.com


We paid our respects and stood quietly at his grave for several moments. I was moved to be there in this place with my great-uncle, a place that is so far from his hometown of Florence, South Carolina.

I have no idea what happens to us after we die, but I hope that, wherever he is, my uncle knows that his family still loves him. When we got back to Charleston and showed these pictures to my grandmother, she cried. She was so glad to hear that her brother had finally had some company.

We also took the time to look at the rest of the cemetery, which is immaculate. A team of soldiers comes to clean all 5,076 headstones each week. The grass is kept trimmed and free of weeds. It's wonderful to know that, if these people couldn't be buried in their hometowns, they're still taken care of--even 70 years after the war ended.

If you visit, take time to visit the memorial, which has a beautiful mosaic ceiling that took an Italian craftsman 18 months to construct.

Paying Our Respects 70 Years Later: World War II, My Family, and the Luxembourg American Cemetery | CosmosMariners.com

Ultimately, this is what travel is all about to me: finding those moments where emotion, personal interest, and history intersect. I feel incredibly privileged to have been given the opportunity to travel to Luxembourg and experience that moment with my family.
_______________________________

Want even more travel goodness? Sign up for the newsletter and get the latest Cosmos Mariners updates, giveaways, and travel news right to your inbox!
Newsletter Signup Newsletter Signup