Today is Memorial Day, a day to remember those men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. While it is of course most commonly recognized in the United States, what many people may not realize is that there are also Memorial Day celebrations to remember the courage and sacrifice of American soldiers here in France.
Yesterday there was a huge ceremony at the Brittany American Cemetery and Memorial in Saint-James, Lower Normandy. I only heard about it while driving through Saint-James on our way home from Rennes late last week; while driving through town I was surprised to see a collection of American jeeps and troop transports from the 1940s, surrounded by groups of people dressed in 1940s civilian and military garb. I stopped to ask them about what was going on, and they mentioned the ceremony to take place on Sunday the 26th.
On Sunday we drove to the cemetery and discovered huge numbers of cars parked along the sides of the roads leading to and from the site. I ended up parking at the farm of someone who was letting people park their cars there for the occasion. As we walked up to the site, an American twin-engine light bomber was soaring overhead. Inside were throngs of people, mostly French, with some British and a few Americans thrown in.
The ceremony was nicely done – the Consul of the United States for Western France was there, as was Brigadier General Kevin McNeely and a few other American military officers. After the French and American national anthems were played, speeches were made in both French and English, and there were prayers given by both a Catholic priest and a Jewish rabbi. Afterward they played taps and a variety of different people laid wreaths at the cemetery, including a variety of French VIPs, some American representatives, and mayors from both a British town and a German town.
I’m not American myself, of course, but my wife is, and my children are half American, so I was very happy that they were there to experience the ceremony. I feel it is important for the kids to understand what happened during World War II and the role that the United States Armed Forces (as well as the Canadian Armed Forces) played during that era. The courage of those young men and women who, in many cases, sacrificed all they had to win freedom for their allies should be remembered and celebrated. And here in France, as you can see, they have not forgotten.