You may have read many books or seen many movies of valour during the world wars. But can you really imagine the story of the brave men who defended their country and people and now lay buried beneath crosses and stars in a war cemetery?
Well I have and I tell you, the feeling is emotionally very complex. There are many kinds of travel and I resolved to visit the place where so many men gave up their lives for our freedom. This was the first time I had ever visited a war cemetery and as I walked slowly past the crosses and stars, each step showed me the importance of this place.
World War I was fought in Europe in many places and the world changed. These battles were the bloodiest and most tragic battles ever fought and the innumerable loss of life agonized both sides, as well as stunned the world into silence. It was a horror never before experienced.
The American Battle Monuments Commission to honor the brave soldiers, who did not return, erected a huge monument overlooking the Marne valley. A little further away they consecrated a chapel, as well as a war cemetery, respectfully marking the dead with headstones of Latin crosses and Stars of David, each with the name of the person, rank, where enlisted, organization, and date of death.
The monuments, graves and chapel are awe-inspiring. Many Americans who come to France visit this memorial and the office which looks after it, helps them find names and the exact location of graves. Even though it was a Sunday I noticed many groups paying their respects.
I found on one headstone, the name of a brave private bearing the same name as mine except for the last. I said a small prayer to all the departed and particularly for the repose of Private Martin Joseph Cook from New York who died battling on the 11th of June 1918
Feeling kind of sad I could not help but inquire to know more about the battle of Belleau Wood. I came to listen to an emotional song is sung by Garth Brooks. “Oh, the snowflakes fell in silence, Over Belleau Wood that night …For a Christmas, a truce had been declared, by both sides of the fight….As we lay there in our trenches, the silence broke in two ……By a German soldier singing, A song that we all knew. Though I did not know the language, the song was “Silent Night”. Then I heard my buddy whisper, “All is calm and all is bright …..Then the fear and doubt surrounded me, ‘Cause I’d die if I was wrong …..But I stood up in my trench, And I began to sing along…..Then across the frozen battlefield, another’ s voice joined in, until one by one, each man became, a singer of the hymn. Then I thought that I was dreaming, for right there in my sight Stood the German soldier, ‘Neath the falling flakes of white. And he raised his hand and smiled at me, As if he seemed to say “Here’s hoping we both live, To see us find a better way” Then the devil’s clock struck midnight and the skies lit up again; and the battlefield where heaven stood, was blown to hell again.
But for just one fleeting moment, the answer seemed so clear. Heaven’s not beyond the clouds; It’s just beyond the fear. No, heaven’s not beyond the clouds, It’s for us to find it here”
Well, that was a real tragic song of a private, I guess. But the story is a true story. Wars are made by leaders and fought by the common man.
Wars are unfortunate and have become inevitable, as there are always two sides to a coin with many views on an issue. World War I as every other war-devastated life, overwrote cultures, demolished morals and pushed the world into places that none ever imagined.
I travelled to remember…to understand..and to feel !. And I did!