There is a place in Luxembourg, just east of Luxembourg City. During World War Two it was taken over by the Germans on 10 May, 1940. Four and a half years later it was liberated by the U.S. troops. It was just south of the front line during the Battle of the Bulge – the 3rd Reich’s final push into the Western front.
Many American military gave their lives during the battles that took place during the late winter of 1944 in to the spring of 1945, leading up to V-E day on 8 May, 1945. And the Americans needed a place to bury their war-dead. American Military Cemeteries were established in several places in Western Europe.
That place in Luxembourg was chosen first to be a temporary cemetery on December 29, 1944. Following the war, families were given the choice to have bodies brought home or buried overseas. The cemetery in Luxembourg was chosen to become a permanent resting ground for the 39% who gave their lives in this area whose remains stayed overseas. Most of them died fighting in this last push towards the end of the European front. In 1951 it was agreed that the United States could use this land as a cemetery, free from payment or taxation in perpetuity.
When we visited, it was a beautiful, warm, clear day. It was later in the day and our family was some of the last visitors. All cemeteries are sobering places, but seeing those geometric patterns of white markers here, stretching out in long lines, mean more to military families.
We know, too well in some cases, that each stone marker represents a life. A young life that was taken defending. Defending freedom, values, our country, our allies, his friends. At some point, the word of that day was told to a mother, father, young wife, siblings and in some cases his children.
We don’t know all the stories. Each stone is marked with a name, rank, unit, state of entrance into the military and the date they perished. We know that a life cannot be wrapped up in those three lines. There are more stories than we will know.
101 graves do not have a name. Instead the three lines read, “Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms known but to God.” These remains could not be identified but are laid to rest with his comrades.
There are bits of stories that we do know:
- 5,076 headstones mark the graves of those laid to rest in 50.5 acres.
- There are 4,958 Latin crosses and 118 stars of David.
- 22 sets of brothers rest side by side.
- General Patton is laid to rest here, per his request to “be buried with my men.” At first his grave was among the soldiers with which he wished to be buried, but there was so much foot traffic to his gravesite that the grass was dying. The solution is that he is buried with paving covering his grave near the front, overlooking the formation.
- One female army nurse is buried among her comrades.
Entrance to the cemetery is through two iron gates with eagle-topped pillars and laurel wreaths. Laurel wreaths have been given since ancient times as a symbol of valor.
Just past the entrance is a small visitor center. If you have a particular grave you would like to visit, the staff can help you find the location.
All the crosses and stars of David point to the tall, white, stone chapel in the front of the arch of gravestones. The chapel is 50 feet tall, but has a fairly small foot print. Inside and outside each wall has a short quote. Inside your eyes will be drawn up to a beautiful mosaic which portrays a dove and four angels and these words, “In proud and grateful memory of those men of the armed services of the United States of America who in this region and in the skies above it endured all and gave all that justice among nations might prevail and that mankind might enjoy freedom and inherit peace.
Like curtains drawn to reveal the scene, two large pylons flank the terrace. On one side of each are maps telling the story of the battles where these men died. The maps are all made from various granite stones and bronze letters and arrows.
On the reverse are lists of those that were missing in action when the pylons were made and the inscription, “Here are recorded the names of Americans who gave their lives in the service of their country and who sleep in unknown graves.” Since the time when these memorials were created some of the missing were recovered. Small rosettes mark their names.
Four similar fountains are placed in the mall between the sections of headstones. They are decorated with dolphins and turtles.