By Marie-Lise Baneton, USAG Benelux Public AffairsJune 8, 2018
CHIÈVRES, Belgium -- During the recent Memorial Day commemorations in Belgium and The Netherlands, American service members of the U.S. Army Garrison Benelux and the larger U.S. military community in the garrison's footprint stood silently at cemeteries and in Bastogne, proudly representing the United States, and those who died to preserve freedom and liberty around the world.
The places where those lie are solemn and reverent, designed to pay tribute to the men and women of the United States who traveled to a foreign country to take part in two world wars and ended up making the ultimate sacrifice. In Bastogne, the Mardasson Memorial provided an equally solemn and reverent venue to honor those sacrifices.
The numbers of casualties speak for themselves. Overall, almost 125,000 Americans remain in cemeteries on foreign soil. They fell in a number of different conflicts and lie in cemeteries across Europe, Africa and the Pacific.
Five American cemeteries are located in the Benelux and are not only a lasting memorial to the men and women who rest here, but they are also a link that binds the military of today to the military of yesterday and a link that binds Americans to Belgians and Dutch alike.
In Belgium alone, there are three cemeteries. Flanders Field contains the remains of World War I casualties whereas the Ardennes and Henri-Chapelle military cemeteries provide a resting place to thousands of World War II fallen service members. The Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten, The Netherlands, is the largest in the Benelux footprint. The Hamm Cemetery, in the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg, provides a final resting place to thousands of service members, including Gen. George Patton, Jr.
Each site has its own story, just as each has its own layout, but they all share the common goal of providing hollowed grounds to pay tribute to the thousands of Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen who fell in battle and remain in foreign land today.
The people behind those graves are what really makes the picture and though Flanders Field is the smallest in size with 368 graves, attendees of the Memorial Day ceremony there were moved by the significance of this year's event.
"This Memorial Day is especially meaningful as 2018 marks the Centennial of the end of World War I," said U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Dieter Bareihs, Director of Plans, Programs and Analyses for Headquarters U.S. Air Forces in Europe and U.S. Air Forces Africa, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, as he addressed the audience at the Flanders Field Memorial Day Ceremony May 27.
The staffs at all cemeteries try to put a face on every Soldier. When possible, they contact the families back home to get their stories or even pictures and when visitors stop by their information centers, superintendents and their staff members make every effort to escort them to the grounds, telling individual stories and explaining facts behind the construction of the cemeteries.
"In all, over four million Americans served in World War I. Amidst the horrors of war, more than 116,000 made the ultimate sacrifice and tens of thousands are buried in American military cemeteries throughout Europe," Bareihs explained.
The general went on, quoting Pvt. Martin August Treptow who was one of them. The son of German immigrants and a U.S. Soldier in World War I, he was killed while serving in France. When his body was found, so was his diary, where Pvt. Treptow had inscribed the following pledge: "America must win this war. Therefore, I will work, I will save, I will sacrifice, I will endure, I will fight cheerfully and do my utmost, as if the whole issue of the struggle depended on me alone."
One hundred years have passed and the world has changed but what has not changed is the commitment of our military. "Today, the ideals these heroes defended and died for are being challenged in new ways. The attrition warfare of one hundred years ago has been replaced by terrorism, state-sponsored aggression and malign influence. While the nature of war has changed and the battlefield has shifted to other domains, the core values of the service men and women in whose footsteps we follow a century later, remain constant: honor, courage, selflessness," Bareihs said.
With Color Guard formations, honor platoons, wreath bearers, and volunteers who help honor the memories of the fallen, members of the USAG Benelux community stood shoulder to shoulder, sharing those values at the cemeteries and in Bastogne.
Hundreds of Belgians and Dutch joined them to express their everlasting gratitude and pride in today's military.