More than 40 enlisted Sailors and families from the Stuttgart military community spent the day volunteering at the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial in Hamm, Luxembourg, June 21, 2014.
The cemetery is maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission and with coordination from the Stuttgart Petty Officers Association, the volunteers performed various upkeep tasks at the site, such as washing headstones and doing minor landscaping.
The cemetery contains the remains of over 5,000 American service members, most of who died during the Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944-1945.
“It was a humbling experience for me, in all honesty,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Shelby Hart, a reserve management coordinator for Joint Intelligence Operations Center Europe. “Saturday, 21 June, was actually my four year anniversary in the Navy. To know that so many people fell to not only protect our lands, but [also] those in Europe, so far away. I will always remember that I had the opportunity to clean the headstones of fallen Soldiers from World War II, on my anniversary date.”
Sailors and families also spent time learning about the history of the region, listening to historical narratives from cemetery staff and reading informational brochures from the visitor’s center.
“I was struck by the fact that even though there were upwards of 5,000 graves, this was only 40 percent of the American men and women who died during and after the Battle of the Bulge,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Angela Tilley, U.S. Special Operations Command Europe. “The scale of loss from World War II was made real to me at that cemetery, and I spent a great deal of time wondering about the survivors of that battle and how they coped with so much loss.”
Partnerships and outreach events such as this are imperative to the future of these historically important places.
“The trip was well planned and inspiring,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Chad Cabral, U.S. European Command. “From the moment we walked onto the grounds we were happily greeted by the acting superintendent, Joy DesRosier. She gave us her undivided attention as we were treated with not only a history lesson about the Battle of the Bulge and defining moments World War II, but she shared stories by participants … she met through the years of service at the Luxembourg Cemetery.”
As the realism of the bravery and sacrifices that were made for freedom set in, emotions ran high and many participants had to take a moment to reflect on the fact that many of those who gave their lives were barely old enough to benefit from the liberties they were sent to fight for.
“Between knowing the facts, hearing the stories, seeing the results of the sacrifices made and being there alongside so many others who I know were feeling the same way, nobody in the group, not one single participant, young or old, was not feeling a sense of pride and accomplishment … . The trip, the lesson, the service, the duty, call it what you will; the experience was that which I will never forget,” Cabral said.