May 29, 2016
"In Remembrance . . ."
Memorial Day weekend is upon us, and there will likely be a variety of news features, both print and electronic, reminding us that Memorial Day is not just a long weekend, the primary purpose of which is to kick off summer. Considering that Memorial Day (aka Decoration Day) began as a tribute to fallen soldiers of the American Civil War, perhaps a fun early-summer holiday could be considered a little more palatable. Most of us aren't attracted to visualizing the grim, violent deaths of wartime.
Memorial Day was previously observed on May 30, regardless what day of the week that was. There were programs with speeches, patriotic readings and music, and a ceremony at the cemetery in which every veteran's name was read aloud and a flag placed on his grave. The day seemed almost like another Sunday, on the quiet side, with perhaps a family picnic or a drive to a nearby lake to see if we could get any fish to bite.
About this time last year, I read an article about the Netherlands American Cemetery, near the village of Margraten, near the German border. There are 65 acres of 8,300 headstones, each one that of a fallen American soldier from World War II. Every single one of these graves has been adopted by a Dutch, Belgian or German family, and although the American Battle Monument Commission maintains the grounds, these families bring flowers, flags, and grateful hearts to the gravesites. Over the years, they've learned about "their" soldier and on his birthday, the day he or she died, at Christmas, and always on Memorial Day, they visit the grave, bringing flowers and sharing their thoughts. Remarkably, those now carrying on this tribute of remembrance and gratitude are the fourth and fifth generations of the original families who began the tradition.
In September of 1944, the United States Army 30th Infantry Division arrived in Margraten, liberating the people from the Nazi occupation under which they had suffered. Their rights and freedoms were restored, and they began to rebuild their shattered lives. That November, an area designated as a cemetery was readied and the burials began in dreadfully great numbers. On May 29, 1945, the day before the American Memorial Day, the townspeople brought wreaths and flowers, honored their liberators, and prayed and wept at the gravesites.
And so the stories have been told and retold, and now the families of these soldiers have come to the Netherlands, visited the memorial, and have met the people who have cared for the memory of their loved ones. Friendships have been forged between the American and Dutch families through this unique sharing experience. In adopting the sons and daughters of the United States, the kindness and decency of these people is truly a light of inspiration.
This devotional writing isn't a traditional one, based on scriptural references and some thoughts on God's love and Christ's teachings in our daily lives. However, as we recall a horrific chapter in human history and honor the ordinary individuals who made extraordinary sacrifices, we also hear the message of the healing power of God's love and the peace it brings to human hearts.
Your friend in Christ,