la journée du souvenir
: memorial day
Searching for Mon Oncle, Soldier Alan
by Nancy Rial
Years ago, we flew past the auto-route sortie to St. Avold, on a fast paced trip which encircled France and her bordering countries. I immediately thought of mon oncle who was buried there in the Lorraine Cimetière Américain but my companion could not be convinced to turn around, stop and investigate. It would have to wait for another trip.
Years later, I happened to be vacationing in Paris when the WWII 50th Anniversary of the Liberation of that city took place—with a parade beneath the open, elegant French windows of my borrowed apartment. My children were with me, and I was determined this time to take them to visit my uncle’s grave. The short visit en route to our next vacation “destination” was undeniably the most moving experience of the trip to Europe that summer.
The Lorraine Cimetière Américain, like the 10 other American military cemeteries of WWI or WWII, is well marked, and easy to locate. The reception room is comfortable and welcoming, the superintendents are bi-lingual, and one can find the location of a soldier’s grave. It is the visitors’ choice to be accompanied for a brief and moving ceremony, or be left to wander freely among the rows of often unvisited young soldiers.
It is an unforgettable experience searching for the soldier the first time. I searched for the familiar name until I recognized the letters on his croix, (there are many étoiles de David, also). Aha! There it is! Then the thought struck me that this is not the place one wants to find a name, for it means that the soldier resting there did not have the privilege of the long life that we live.
That first visit awakened more questions than it answered about this uncle I had never met. The kindly superintendent looked in his library for answers to some of my concerns. I wanted to know as many details as I could find about this young man’s life; just how much had he experienced? I have been investigating ever since.
The cemetery hosts an “Adopt a Grave” program, which is very important to the family of the soldiers buried across the seas from his homeland. No one in our family knows why my grandmother chose to leave Alan where he had fallen, but it is fitting that he is with his comrades, and that all these forever-young men should not be forgotten. The American cemeteries themselves are fitting reminders of the two countries’ entwined histories that started when France first helped the founding colonies of the New World to independence, and was later lent a helping hand in the 20th century.
For a truly moving experience, visit one of the World War II cemeteries on Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day (Armistice Day), or a quiet day of your next vacation. The rows of white marble crosses and Stars of David are inspiring and provide a good place to think about the value of life and what it means to be human. If you live in France, consider “Adopting” the grave of a soldier who gave everything so that we all have a good life. Then share the experience with the next
Nancy Rial has a background in both the fine arts and library science. She is currently a library media specialist at the Cambridge Public Schools. She has been researching WWII for the past 10 years, and travels frequently between her home in Cambridge and France.
Read Nancy's book Alan's Letters
"This is a personal chronicle of a teen soldier in WWII from basic training to his adventures across northern France on the front lines as a member of the Fifth Division, part of Patton's Third Army." Click here to order.
For more information on American WWII Military Cemeteries please visit here.
For more information about Nancy's uncle, Sgt. Alan Lowell, or how to get started researching your own soldat, please visit: www.alansletters.com
la sortie = exit
mon oncle = my uncle
le cimetière américain = American cemetery
la croix = cross
l'étoile (f) de David = star of david
le soldat = soldier
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If reading this edition via email, you will need to click over the the blog to watch this touching "Day in the Life" of an American who lives in one of the soldiers cemeteries in France--in order to care for it. Don't miss the video, click here then scroll down to the video.
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