It is Memorial Day Weekend 2022 here in the US.
School is out in many locales.
Airports are packed with travelers.
Many of us think of the Memorial Day holiday as one we spend at a pool party or on a boat on a lake somewhere, and that is great.
However, I wanted to also honor the brave American heroes who gave their lives so that we could post pictures to our Instagram story in 2022 (unlike in China and Russia currently).
We enjoy precious freedoms here in this country, and I hope that we appreciate them fully.
I had a really powerful experience recently which reminded me of the sacrifices made my our military.
Last month, I visited the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial (NACM) in Margraten, The Netherlands.
Margraten is in the southern part of Holland, somewhat near the Belgian border and about 30 minutes away from the large town of Maastricht.
The NACM is one of the largest cemeteries for WWII American soldiers in Europe, and honors over 10,500 lost American souls who bravely gave their lives to liberate Europe from tyranny.
To watch my Instagram reel about my visit, check out my personal Instagram page at austinfromaustin1; the reel has over 4,000 views and almost 100 likes.
But if you don’t head there, I will describe it for you now.
On the Friday morning I visited (and it was Good Friday, which lent even more gravitas to the visit), it was a foggy and cold morning but without rain.
The clouds seemed to almost reach the ground and kiss the tops of the tombstones; the calendar and the weather had jointly conspired to make it a somber and reflective morning.
As you walk into the memorial, 20 foot high cement walls on two sides flank a reflection pool.
These walls stretch about 40 yards on each side.
Stenciled into the stone of these walls are over a thousand names and lining these walls are beautiful cherry blossom trees.
In the middle of the cherry blossoms and walls is the reflection pool which stretches the length of the two walls. At the end of the pool, there is a tall RECTANGULAR tower made of smooth grey stone.
The day's gray weather so exactly matched the stone walls that the only color provided was the brilliant pinkish red cherry blossoms on the trees that lined the reflection pool in between the walls.
I walked to the right and looked at the names on the wall - an experience similar to the 9/11 Memorial in downtown Manhattan and the Vietnam War Memorial in DC.
Organized alphabetically by last name and including the state from which they came, these are the names of American soldiers known to be Killed In Action but whose remains have never been found.
The verbiage running across the wall, which is in both Dutch and English says: “Here are the names of those Americans who gave their lives in the service to their country and who sleep in unmarked graves."
There we definitely tears streaming down my cheeks at this point.
I took a closer look at the names on the walls and reflected.
Flowers have been placed in front of certain spots, and I hear that many Dutch people make it a priority to visit the NACM with flowers and to clean the gravestones.
In fact, the entire location is kept in pristine condition.
As I proceeded past the wall of the soldiers sleeping in unmarked graves, I went inside the five-stories-tall monument building. Inside the monument, and unbeknownst to many, is a small and intimate church with American flags inside.
The church is a narrow but tall space inside the Monument, and upon further inspection I found the following message engraved on the wall above the door:
In Proud Remembrance of the Achievements of her sons and in humble tribute to their sacrifices this memorial has been erected by the United States of America.
At this point, I realize that I am standing on US soil in Europe. I gaze up at the American flags and then look towards the large wooden cross on the wall at the front of the church, with candles and white roses underneath.
I am overtaken by emotion. And I haven't arrived at the cemetery yet.
I walk outside of the Memorial, to witness over 7,500 crosses which mark the graves in the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial.
The gravestones are positioned at an arc, so that as you peer across the two adjacent fields where the graves are marked, it seems like an optical illusion.
There are just too many for your brain to comprehend that cross represents a human life.
Jewish heroes have a Star of David on top; Christian heroes have a Cross.
Each gravestone includes the name, rank, hometown and date of death. Some have flowers in front of them.
I walked amongst the rows of dead American heroes and thought about what it must have been like to be sent to a strange country to fight an unseen enemy, and how these soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice for us.
At the end of the rows of graves, a lone American flag flies.
It is strange to see an American flag flying in the midst of Europe, yet the fact it exists reminds you what an impact our young heroes made almost 80 years ago in the turning of the tide of the war and in the hearts and minds of Europeans today.
I hope you are inspired by these words and pictures, and that you have a safe and healthy Memorial Day Weekend.
Thank you to all those who serve, have served and the military families who remained strong, supportive and hopeful throughout the tragic conflicts in our history. Your bravery has helped protect and sustain our democracy.
Next month on the Social Musings podcast I will be performing my first new original fiction story in months. It is a story inspired by true events and set in The Netherlands. I hope you will tune in and enjoy.
Also be sure to check out my latest new original song, "Staring at the Nightlight," which is available on my SoundCloud channel here.