Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day - Lest We Forget

My father at Meuse-Argonne Cemetery

During my father's military service in France in the mid-1950s, he and my mother were fortunate enough to tour the area around St. Mihiel where they lived, as well as take a few trips outside of the area to Paris, Nice and to Italy. Daddy was stationed at an army base at Sampigny which was a couple of miles from St. Mihiel. This area of France, known as the Alsace-Lorraine region, see-sawed back and forth between Germany and France for centuries. During World War I, the region was held by Germany but for three hundred years before, it was part of France. Following the war, the area reverted back to French rule. Many ruins and memorials dotted the region when my parents lived there, none from World War II though ,as the area escaped major action during the second war.

The United States didn't enter World War I until April 1917, and it took several months to draft, organize and train troops, as well as to produce the necessary war equipment and supplies; thus it wasn't until 1918 that the U.S. actually sent troops to Europe to aid the Allies in their fight against the German army. By the Spring of 1918, when French and British troops had been depleted and the outlook was bleak, General John J. Pershing's American troops brought much needed support and strength to the Allies. The American troops took the lead in several offensive attacks in the Alsace-Lorraine region, and by September the German troops were in retreat.

My mother took the above picture of Daddy standing over the graves of fallen American soldiers at the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery. The Battle of Meuse-Argonne was, at the time, the largest battle ever fought by U.S. troops in American history. Fought between the Meuse River and the Argonne Forrest, over one million American soldiers participated in this battle, which lasted nearly two months and eventually resulted in an armistice with Germany on November 11th. Originally, this day was celebrated and remembered in the U.S. as Armistice Day but in 1954 the day became known as Veterans Day to honor all veterans. Memorial Day is a similar holiday, a day set aside to to commemorate U.S. men and women who died in military service to our country. It used to be a tradition to observe the Memorial Day holiday by visiting cemeteries and memorials, but most folks these days view the day as part of a three-day holiday weekend.

The Meuse-Argonne Cemetery is the largest American cemetery in Europe. Its 130 acres hold the graves of 14,246 American soldiers who died during this great battle. Each Cross or Star of David is engraved with the name of a fallen soldier along with his unit and state of residence. The names of an additional 954 soldiers whose bodies were never recovered or identified are engraved on a monument within the cemetery.

St. Mihiel, where my parents lived during their stay in France, also was the site of a major offensive during World War I, and it too has an American cemetery honoring the dead soldiers from that battle.


Lori said...

Incredible photographs and story. My grandfather fought in that battle during World War I. Wish I could visit there too.

Ma Jean said...

Mona, Thanks what a wondeful memorial. A special memory for me.

Michael said...

Nice to see someone else was in that area at the same time my family was!
Dad (John Grams) was based in Sampigny and met my Mom (Odette Frey)
Who was a telephone operator there. They too lived in St.Mihiel and then I came along. I return to St.Mihiel every year to visit my Aunt and cousins! I love it there and hope to work at the US Cemetary at Thiacourt someday!