With number two on my list of top ten list sights visited this year, I find myself thinking about my visits to Normandy and Luxembourg. Both areas were fabulous to tour, but each has a little piece of ground that these countries have given to the United States in which those that gave everything are buried. I visited each one at separate times, but I can’t leave one or the other out since, to me, both are significant.
Most of us have seen the images of the Normandy cemetery – white grave markers lined up in a row – scenes from movies such as Saving Private Ryan give us the mental picture of this hallowed ground. Well, I can tell you that movies do not do it justice. You just can’t imagine the view of thousands of Americans buried in another country. American flags flying beside the French flag, name upon name of young men that traveled far from home never to return to their loved ones, many dying just over the hill from this spot on Omaha Beach on a single day. It is a powerful place to visit.We went to Normandy on Memorial Day weekend and our day at the cemetery was the same day of the practice for the following day’s remembrance ceremony. Each of the grave markers were decorated with American and French flags. We watched American soldiers and airmen marching through the cemetery, lowering the flags, and escorting guests of honor. We stood still as “Taps” was played – a beautifully haunting music box type sound that echoed throughout the grounds. Massive maps of the battlefields gave visitors a small concept of how large the war was. Equally astounding was the large wall of names – those that were not found and were not buried in the grounds with the white crosses and stars of David but no less important.
Normandy was powerful – and an important place for any American to visit and remember the sacrifices made by those we do not know for people they did not know.
About a month after Normandy, we traveled to Luxembourg and stopped at the American cemetery just outside Luxembourg City. Here, as in Normandy, the country of Luxembourg gave ground to the United States to bury our men that gave everything. Like Normandy, the white grave markers were lined up in perfect rows contrasting against the green manicured grass. In the Luxembourg cemetery, we paid our respects to these soldiers who never made the final trip home.
A famous addition in this cemetery was the grave of Gen. George Patton, who wanted to be buried with his men. Patton didn’t die in battle, but rather from injuries in a car accident not far from where I now live. The cemetery caretaker told us how Patton’s wife wanted to fly his body home, but during his life, Patton was adamant about staying with his men. His body was buried amongst the troops, just another grave that got a lot more attention. Because of the heavy traffic to his grave marker, the cemetery finally moved Patton to the front of the grounds where people could view his grave without tramping atop all the other graves. So, fittingly, Patton now rests at the front of his men. From the perspective of looking behind his marker, it would appear that Patton still leads his men who are all lined up in front of him.
There are other American military cemeteries in Europe and I hope to visit them in the next couple years. But for 2011, my visits to Normandy and Luxembourg were reminders to me that my freedoms did come with a price – a price very costly to many families and one that I should not ever take for granted.
So there’s my number two – the next one will be my top spot for the year 2011. Let’s recap the top nine and the five runner ups:
Canterbury Cathedral, England
Bayeaux Tapestry, France
New Orleans, Louisiana
Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
Baptisty in Pisa, Italy
10. Jack Daniel’s Distillery, Lynchburg, Tennessee
9. Zugspitze/Garmisch, Germany
8. Mont St. Michel, France
7. Sunset at the Sacre Couer, Paris
6. walking around Warsaw, Poland
5. Giverny, France
4. Louvre in Paris
3. Westminster Abbey, London
2. American military cemeteries in Normandy/Luxembourg
1. ? ?
Stay tuned later this week for my favorite travel spot visited this year!