About a month ago, there was a request for volunteers to participate in the Memorial Day Ceremonies here in Belgium. Four Sailors and myself volunteered. One other Sailor and myself on the Color Guard and the rest as members of the Honor Platoon or wreath bearers. I’ve marched before; I’ve held a rifle before. But, my god, I’ve never done so much of it over the course of a weekend — not even in being part of a 900 Division in boot camp.

We have gone forth from our shores repeatedly over the last hundred years and we’ve done this as recently as the last year in Afghanistan and put wonderful young men and women at risk, many of whom have lost their lives, and we have asked for nothing except enough ground to bury them in…”

— Secretary of State Colin Powell

There are three cemeteries in Belgium:  Ardennes, Henri-Chapelle and Flanders, we honored the fallen at all three. The love and care put into the grounds there are at a level beyond anything I can remember seeing in the States. There was literally nothing that looked unkept, everything was immaculate and proper. Those who care for the grounds there we owe a huge debt.

I really was not sure what to expect from a Memorial Day celebration outside of the United States. I wouldn’t expect anyone but American Citizens to ever want to honor the memory of those we lost in battle. When we practiced we were told that they were large, well attended ceremonies. But, I still couldn’t conceptualize what I actually saw over the course of the weekend.

I don’t know the exact count. But, there must have been over 200 people in attendance at each Cemetery (standing room only at Flanders), the minority of which were Americans. I met a very nice lady from the Netherlands and her friend. They had taken pictures of me at Henri-Chapelle and shared them. She has adopted grave sites and the names of the missing at Cemeteries in the Netherlands, Belgium and France. She attends the Ceremonies every year, and has never looked to be recognized for her support. There were a significant number of Belgian Veterans in attendance, you could spot them by their awesome mustaches (it seriously must be a requirement to grow an epic mustache to receive veteran benefits in Belgium) and the medals they wore. Many had their Unit’s colors with them, embroidered with the dates of the campaigns they fought in. School Children in Waregem have learned our National Anthem since the 1920s, both the Belgian and US National Anthems were sung by them. Speeches were given by the US Ambassadors to the European Union and Belgium, The US Military Representative to NATO and Senator Leahy. From Belgium the King sent a representative and the Mayors of the towns in which the Cemeteries are located also spoke.

In all 14,151 of our dead were honored. There were no Belgians, Americans, or anyone of any Nationality there. There were only we who remembered those who gave the last full measure of devotion to a cause greater than themselves and their homelands. The French version of the Belgian National Anthem has a line which translates as “To you we stretch our hearts and arms” and that is how I felt this Memorial Day weekend. I would never expect anyone from a Nation other than the US to thank me or anyone for our service and the sacrifices we make. But, they do and they are sincere when they give thanks.

Posted by CTR1(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III in History, Marine Corps, Navy

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  • Thank you, Lucien. That was nice to read.

  • Emilio

    On the 25th of April, here in Italy is a national holiday, celebrating how the Italian resistance defeated the Nazis and the Fascists.

    They are still a bit disgruntled that they were not able to defeat the Brits and the damn Yanks at the same time. They were however quite successful in buggering the Poles, with the help of Uncle Josif, while said Poles where fighting the Germans around Cassino.

    Yeah, whatever… It must be funny for them, living in an ucronia.

    OTGH, given that I know my history, two years ago on the 25th I went to visit the US Military Cemetery, in Nettuno, near Anzio.

    And I must confess that I got quite a few tears in my eyes, and thankful that I was not alone, there.

    Thanks, boys…

  • alfred_the_great

    I think you possibly underestimate us Europeans. If you can make it, go to a ceremony on Remembrance Sunday (the sunday after 11 Nov), it will be much the same.

    In Flanders fields the poppies blow
    Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
    Scarce heard amid the guns below.

    We are the Dead. Short days ago
    We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
    In Flanders fields.

    Take up our quarrel with the foe:
    To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
    We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
    In Flanders fields.

  • YN2(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III


    I didn’t mean to come across as ‘underestimating’ anyone. Rather, I wished to come across as humbled and honored that Europeans would attend ceremonies honoring those from another Continent, let alone Nation.

  • alfred_the_great

    It’s alright, perhaps chippiness on my behalf. There are 3 US War dead in the cemetery next to my house, a wreath is laid to remember them on 11 Nov.

    For all the banter that flows across the Atlantic, don’t forget that we owe you a huge debt of honour for your actions in 1917/18 and 1941-45. Both World Wars are visceral things for us, there isn’t a single village or town that doesn’t have a memorial honouring our glorious dead: you are quite rightly included in that.

  • Great post!

  • Old Air Force Sarge

    Great article and thank you.

    If you get the chance, pay a visit to La Roche-en-Ardenne in Belgium. During WWII an American B-17 (“The Joker”) went down in that area. One crew member did not survive the shoot-down. To this day this small, beautiful village remembers that B-17 crew. One of the highlights of my NATO tour was participating in the annual memorial for “The Joker” and her crew. Check it out, the Belgians are number one in my book!

  • BMCS ( Senior)

    Good article son. You make me and your mom proud.

  • 551st son

    I know the feeling of awe at the respect the Belgians show. My father was a SSgt in the 551st Parachute Btln during the Bulge. In 1989 the Batalion had a reunion and part of that trip was to Belgium where they had fought at Rochlinval and the Trois Pont area. One night they held a dinner in our honor. I was told we did not have to pay for this and any Belgian who attended had to pay. The hall was packed!!! Every seat taken. it was just such a stunning experience. We couldn’t buy a drink. I have fond memories of that night