My grandfather, a retired chief, lives in a small town in rural Rhode Island. Ever since Noah was a midshipman, he has been participating in the town's Memorial Day parade. To this day, the parade is pure Americana. There are boy scouts, fire trucks, the local marching band, and or course all the local vets turn up. Judging by the number of people watching along the parade route, its safe to assume that pretty much everyone in town attends.
In 2004, I had the distinct privilege to march in that parade alongside my grandfather, my father, my brother-in-law.
It was quite possibly the best day I've ever spent in uniform.
2 Weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Cambridge American Cemetery in England. The site was established in 1943 on 30.5 acres of land donated by the University of Cambridge, and is the only WWII American Cemetery in Great Britain. Most of those buried or memorialized there were USAAF aircrew or those lost on the convoys across the Atlantic. More detailed specifics can be found here.
One of the most awe-inspiring elements was a large map of the UK carved into the side of the chapel. On it were marks indicating an American base, be it Army, Air Force or Navy that was used during the course of the second world war.
The interior of the chapel was equally impressive with a ceiling mosaic depicting angels escorting bombers and fighters, along with the following inscription:
IN PROUD AND GRATEFUL MEMORY OF THOSE MEN OF THE UNITED STATES ARMY AIR FORCE WHO FROM THESE FRIENDLY ISLES FLEW THEIR FINAL FLIGHT AND MET THEIR GOD. THEY KNEW NOT THE HOUR THE DAY NOR THE MANNER OF THEIR PASSING. WHEN FAR FROM HOME THEY WERE CALLED TO JOIN THAT HERIOIC BAND OF AIRMEN WHO HAD GONE BEFORE. MAY THEY REST IN PEACE.
There are 3,812 marked graves, but because so many of those lost were aircrew, and sailors, their remains were never recovered. To honor them, the cemetery contains a 472 foot limestone wall with the names of 5,126 listed as missing, lost, or buried at sea. Along the wall are statues depicting a soldier, a sailor, an airman, and a coast guardsman.
The cemetery proper was laid out in a semi-circle with the grave markers forming spokes radiating out from a central flagpole.
It was a humbling experience to walk among those crosses and stars, and to read the names etched onto them. They were not all that different from you and me, except they gave their lives for something far bigger than themselves.