I don’t think anything brings home the meaning of war more than the cemeteries and monuments we’re visiting to find the soldiers our participants are researching.
Today we were in a French cemetery, where there are nearly 50,000 French soldiers. Crosses, row upon row upon row, lined up in perfecty straight lines, just like the soldiers would have been in their battalions.
We were at the Vimy Memorial, where we located three soldiers and heard their stories. These men have no known grave, and what that knowledge must have felt like for their families is incomprehensible. In a great addition to our experience, the great-nephews of one of these soldiers met us at the monument to hear this tribute, and he said he had been to the memorial 5 times and it never got easier seeing his relative’s name, knowing how his family had mourned him but not having his grave to go and mourn at.
We attempted to get to a remote cemetery, and in a true testament to his ability as a driver as well as his determination to give our kids the best experience possible, our bus driver, Franky, spent 45 minutes attempting to back down a one-way, one-lane dirt road. He was thwarted twice by tractors, and the road one of those tractor drivers suggested is not do-able by bus, so for the moment we are unable to get to that soldier to pay tribute. (We are heading to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission tomorrow so we are hopeful they can give us some suggestions for an alternate route).
We did get to a second remote cemetery, one that was located beside a main road, but was on a grass path through a farmer’s field; we stopped at the side of the road, got off the bus, and walked in.
Over the past three days, these cemeteries have shown these participants the reality of war: we have seen huge cemeteries and small cemeteries; cemeteries that are located in towns, and cemeteries located in the middle of farmers’ fields; cemeteries that are on the side of main roads, cemeteries that are on dirt roads, and cemeteries that have no roads at all. The thing they all have in common is that they are all beautifully maintained, and they all contain the bodies of men who left their homes and families, expecting, and hoping, to return after fighting for a cause they believed in.
I am so proud of these young adults and their committment to this program, because as I see them pay tribute to their soldiers in all sorts of cemeteries and at all sorts of memorials, I know that while these soldiers’ lives may have been cut short, they will never be forgotten by this group.
Good night from France.
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