Memorial Day 2012
If you came back, you wanted to leave again. If you went away, you longed to come back. Wherever you were, you could hear the call of the herdsman's horn far away in the hills. You had one home out there and one over here and yet you were an alien in both places. Your true abiding place was the vision of something very far off, and your soul, like the waves, always restless and forever in motion" Johan Bojer from The Immigrants.
Like Abraham we are looking forward to a city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Hebrws 11:20).
Margraten – Henri Chappell – names that mean little to many Americans, yet every time our family was near either of these two American cemeteries in Holland or Belgium, we stopped for a bit and walked around these memorials, where hosts of Americans are buried who died during the invasion to Normandy to the Battle of the Bulge. The cemeteries and memorials are maintained by the American government, but families in Holland, Belgium and even in Germany adopted grave sites and stand in for American families who can not come and place flowers on their loved one’s graves. The descendants of these first adopters continue the tradition. Today and tomorrow every grave will be visited and honored by the people who live nearby.
Our family visited the American Cemetery and Memorial in Luxembourg where General Patton is buried. Every cemetery has its stories. I can’t tell you how many times we visited Bastogne, Belgium, where our troops spent several freezing days in December, 1944, including Christmas Day, surrounded by German troops, who demanded their surrender. It seems that every few years my husband, Tom and I would again visit the “Nuts” Museum. When we moved from the Netherlands to York, Nebraska, to begin our work at York College, our backyard neighbor came to welcome us to the neighborhood. He said, “I’ve never visited Holland, but I spent one Christmas in Bastogne.” All we could do at that moment was say, “Thank You.”
We also visited the German grave yard in Bastogne, which at the time was unkempt compared to the American Cemeteries. As I walked from grave to grave, the ages of the soldiers were recorded. So many of the ‘men’ buried there were very young, many only reaching the age of 16.
We visited one of the larger miltary cemeteries in Bratislava, Slovakia. It is a Russian cemetery where bodies where piled up in huge heaps and covered with soil. Around the edges are individual graves of officers. So many heaps, so many dead - more Russians died in World War II than all those who died from all the Allied Forces put together.
When Tom and I attended the first International Conference on Missionary Kids in Manilla, The Philippines in 1984, we visited the American cemetery there. It contains the largest number of graves of our military dead of World War II, a total of 17,201, most of whom lost their lives in operations in New Guinea and the Philippines. I cannot enter such a cemetery without tears for the dead, for their families and for the causes of this grief. Yes, I feel patriotic at times like this. I am grateful to be an American and scenes like this move me. There will always be wars and rumors of wars. We honor our dead, but their loss to their families is ongoing. My heart goes out to the families whose grief is so fresh this Memorial Day. I feel sadness for those who have never experienced closure, for those who have no grave to visit, for those families whose loved ones are ‘missing-in-action’ and are presumed dead. Closure is important.
Today the American flag given to me at Tom’s funeral from a grateful government flies along with a hundred others in a cemetery in Sutton, Nebraska; the streets will be lined with American flags and most of the houses will have a flag flying from their front porches. All the cemeteries in the area will be decorated with flowers and by my husband’s grave and all other veterans’ graves, someone will place a smaller American flag. The cemetery will be studded with the stars and stripes of the United States. It is an event that brings a feeling of pride and patriotism to the entire town. Scenes like this pervade our towns and cities in the United States on Memorial Day.
There are times patriotism just wells up in me. I can’t seem to help myself. I remember well returning from Hungary before the wall fell. Soldiers, some with machine guns, boarded the train with the passengers in Budapest and inspected every nook and cranny of every car all the way to the Austrian border. At the border, they inspected the top of the train and underneath the train. The passengers remained quiet and still. When the train was allowed to cross the border and we passed no-man’s land into Austria, the feelings of relief and patriotism overwhelmed me. I found myself in a similar situation in a boat on the Danube headed back to Vienna after an oppressing and very controlled visit to Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. When the boat reached the Austrian border, the passengers broke out in spontaneous applause. Yet, at the same time, I had great sympathy for the citizens of these countries. On both of these occasions I was with a group of people who had smuggled Bibles into these countries. We could not free the people from oppressive governments, but we could offer them freedom in Christ.
And isn’t freedom in Christ the more important value? My heart belongs to many people who are not citizens of the U.S. I care deeply for them. They are my brothers and sisters in Christ. Someday there will be no middle walls of partition, no borders and no wars to divide us. We will be One in Christ and the banner (flag) over us will be love. Your fellow citizen, your fellow brother or sister will sit with you at the banquet table and will work alongside you and will bow his or her knee with you to the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. There will be no cemeteries, no divided loyalties, and no tears. Do you long to be a part of that eternal kingdom? Can you hear the herdsman’s horn far away in the hills, where you have one home out there and one here? Is your true abiding place the vision of something very far off? Is your soul, like the waves, always restless and forever in motion? Do you like Abraham look for a city not made with hands? In that kingdom we celebrate Memorial Day every week. In the future we will just celebrate our presence with God. Do you well up with pride at the thought that you are a citizen of the kingdom of heaven? Do you?
Have a great Memorial Day!