On the site liberated by the U.S. Army’s 1st Infantry Division Sept. 11, 1944, more than 40 U.S. service members paid tribute their sacrifice as part of a Veterans Day commemorative service at the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial Nov. 11.
U.S. Air Force Airmen from the 52nd Fighter Wing in Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, as well as NATO Air Base Geilenkirchen, Germany, and U.S. Navy Sailors stationed in Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany, and representatives from the cemetery’s American Battle Monuments Commission conducted the ceremony before nearly 100 Belgian natives in honor of the American national holiday.
Under the wings of a guardian angel statue and with a fluttering American flag in the distance, service members placed three wreaths on markers in front of legions of dew-covered crosses and stars etched from white Italian marble that each as the final resting place for 7,992 WWII American Soldiers with ranks ranging from junior enlisted infantry up to a commanding brigadier general.
“The 7,992 of our fallen countrymen buried in this beautiful cemetery testify to our nation’s determination that liberty is worth defending and that freedom is worth fighting for,” said Chief Master Sgt. Richard Lien, 52nd Civil Engineer Squadron fire chief from Twig, Minn., and event guest speaker. “America’s sons and daughters willingly asked for the responsibility of carrying Lady Liberty’s torch to far-flung lands in hopes that peace amongst nations could be achieved and the rights of all free men and women would be protected, upheld and advanced.”
In addition to honoring the fallen Americans, Lien paid tribute to the gratitude the Belgian people and their faith throughout the darkest days of the war.
“To our brave Belgian allies and comrades-in-arms, I say ‘Amérique se souvient de vos sacrifices.’ (‘America remembers your sacrifices,’)” Lien said.
Like those in the formation, Senior Airman Nathan Greer, 52nd CES and Owasso, Okla., native, could have spent his extended weekend relaxing at home or touring the many historical sites in Europe in civilian clothes.
Instead, Greer chose to don service dress uniform and salute alongside his fellow service members accompanied by his wife, Megan, who observed the service as part of the crowd.
This was a good opportunity to do something I haven’t done before,” Nathan Greer said. “This place shows what it took to get our countries where they are today. These people impacted the whole world.”
His wife also expressed admiration for the fallen’s devotion to their country as symbolized by the oath they took to possibly die for others — the same oath her husband took and in a similar vein to the one the Greers pledged to each other as husband and wife.
“To me, it’s where I can say ‘thank you’ to represent and honor the fact that they took an oath to defend our lives,” Megan Greer said. “I think our generation doesn’t say thank you enough, and being here is my way.”
After placing the wreaths, ceremony staff played a recording of a ceremonial rifle volley followed by a bugler’s rendition of taps.
Master Sgt. Shaneeka Jones, superintendent of flight records 470th Air Base Squadron at Gallenkirchen, and Valdosta, Ga., native, said Veterans Day meant so much more to her after her cousin died while serving in Iraq.
“Before I came into the military, I just thought it was a day out of school or day off work,” Jones said. “Now that I’m in the military and have lost family and friends, this day has a much more significant meaning to me than ever. When you lose somebody and they have to pay the ultimate sacrifice, it has a different meaning than just being a part of a formation. To look out and see all these people here, it just shows you that we’re fighting for something bigger than ourselves.”
The ceremony concluded with each service member saluting during the recorded playing of the “Star-Spangled Banner” carried out by tubular bells.