Sunday, May 29, 2011

Memorial Day

As some of you may know, I have been in Europe for the last two weeks, visiting my niece who lives in Glan-Munchweiler, Germany, near Ramstein AFB, where her husband is stationed. He is deployed right now to Qatar for six months, so I am here, keeping her company and "allowing" her to be my personal tour guide while he is gone.

I have been to Europe before, but this trip has been different, seeing it through the eyes of those who serve in our military services abroad. I've come to know some of the people in this community and see the sacrifices and accommodations they make every day, living away from America and representing our country. Their lives are not easy; they are not on a constant European vacation. I salute them all and thank them for their service.

In the past two weeks we have visited several military cemeteries. First, during a three-day excursion to Bruges, Belgium, we visited some of the WWI cemeteries in Flanders. This trip was so moving for me that I am still processing the experience. Like most Americans, I knew a lot more about WWII than I did about WWI. Having now seen that war through the eyes of the soldiers serving the British Commonwealth, I am overwhelmed with emotion that I may be able to write about at a later time.

Yesterday, Saturday, we were fortunate to be able to attend the Memorial Day service at the WWII American Military Cemetery and Memorial in Luxembourg. I thought it appropriate to share some of my thoughts and photos from that service with you as a Memorial Day tribute.

This cemetery is the resting place of 5076 soldiers killed during the "Battle of the Bulge," December 16, 1944 - January 25, 1945. It contains members of the "Band of Brothers," 101st Airborne Division, two medal of honor winners, one woman (a nurse) and the man who led all of them, General George Patton. 

Since General Patton did not die in battle, but as the result of an auto accident after the war, at his request he is not buried with his men, but off to the side, overlooking them.

The service itself was somber and dignified, a fitting tribute. It included a flyover, laying of wreaths by officials of the United States, the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, the people of Luxembourg, the City of Luxembourg and the Government of Luxembourg. Each official was escorted by members of either a US or Luxembourg military service. 

Smaller wreaths were presented by representatives of various organizations and groups in Europe and on the US military bases. These were escorted by members of Boy, Girl and Cub Scout troops on the various bases in the area. 
Music was provided by the young men of the Miami University Glee Club and by the Luxembourg Army Band. The C Battery, 5th BN, 7th Air Defense Artillery of Kaiserslautern Germany performed a 21 Gun Salute. 

The Air Force also provided an honor guard.

Throughout the service, my head was in the movies, "Band of Brothers" and "Saving Private Ryan." I thought of the terrifying conditions on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day in June, 1944, and the battles fought not only with the enemy, but with the weather as the offensive continued in the winter of 1944-45. I could hear Tom Hanks as Captain Miller speaking to Mark Wahlberg's Private Ryan as he (the captain) lay dying, "Earn this." Earn the sacrifice of these good people, live your life valuing and protecting the principles they died for. And that's the message I took away from the day.

Each individual needs to fight to protect the individual freedoms guaranteed to Americans by the Constitution - freedoms of speech, privacy and more. Don't expect the military or the government to be the ones to do all the defending. Speak up when you see your rights threatened; use your vote to make your feelings known. Be passionate not passive. This was a Memorial Day I will never forget.

And so I leave you all with wishes for a wonderful holiday and the commission to spend at least a few minutes thinking about all those who have died in wars and are still dying today. I am sure I will have more to say, particularly about WWI, when I return home. Thanks for stopping by.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright

One of the things keeping me occupied, away from this blog, was a trip to Baton Rouge with my good friend, Leah. She has accepted an Executive Director position at LSU and will be commuting between her husband, here, and her job, there, for the next few years. During our recent trip we found her a comfortable place to live while she is working out the details of the new job and the commute.

I have spent a lot a time in South Louisiana in my life, both visiting family and with various jobs I've had, but I had never visited the LSU campus until this trip. Let me first say that the campus is beautiful. There are majestic old live oaks, lakes and stately buildings all around. I know that Texas is historically  considered "The South," but when you step onto the LSU campus, you know there's a difference; this really is "The South." It's in the atmosphere and in the way people speak; all slower, calmer and more fluid in nature. 

I worked for several years for The University of Texas at Austin, so I understand the concept of rabid, devoted sports fans very well. I know there are those who bleed burnt orange and will have the Longhorn logo carved on their tombstones. But even in this the LSU Tigers are different. Somehow it is more than just a devotion to sports and school. It is more like being a Tiger is part of their identity and souls, like the commitment to honor and chivalry was part of the Old South. The commitment is not questioned or divided, at least in Baton Rouge. Everyone is a Tiger and there are tigers everywhere. Literally. 

I took part of one afternoon to photograph tigers, on campus and off. My head was filled with William Blake's poem "The Tiger" the whole time, so here I have tried to recreate the dialog running through my head that afternoon.

Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder and what art
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand and what dread feet?

What the hammer, what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water'd heaven with their tears,
Did He smile His work to see?
Did He who made the lamb make thee?

Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

I told you they were everywhere. 

Apartment complexes . . .

Hotel lobbies . . .

and on every corner of the LSU campus.

I am afraid it's in my bloodstream now. I've watched LSU baseball twice since I've been home and found myself doing a search for the Tigers' fall football schedule. Even though "the eyes of Texas are upon me," I have to say it: Go Tigers. (Or, as my friend, Maureen, reminded me, Geaux Tigers!)