My wife Lale and I have been to Europe seven times since 1992.
The cleansing part of our trip is always our visit to our American
Military cemeteries. To experience a visit to the Normandy Cemetery
where 9,386 American soldiers rest in a very serene and peaceful
setting. An additional 1,557 brave Americans are listed with
this notation: ''Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms
known but to God." A sobering reminder is that there are
38 sets of brothers buried there of which 33 sets are buried
side by side.
Several of my buddies rest there, one of them is Tom Rubritz,
my boyhood friend. Tom was killed at St. Lo, France. After I
walk through all these marble Crosses and Stars of David, I struggle
with so many emotions. These 11,250 young Americans struck down
in the prime of their lives. Thoughts dash through my mind, "This
could have been my permanent address." As I kneel at the
grave of my boyhood friend, Tom Rubritz, I plead with him to
forgive me for not joining him. Yes, Tom, as boyhood friends,
we always did things together. Why Tom and not me? We were only
several hundred yards a part when the artillery shell landed
near Tom. I could have been where he was or maybe the shell was
intended for my half-track but it missed its target. These are
the thoughts that haunt many a survivor.
Then I think of all the blessings God has given me these past
62 years. He has blessed me with a lovely wife, 5 children, 12
grandchildren and three great grandchildren. These 11,250 young
soldiers in the Normandy Cemetery, times the 62 extra years that
I have enjoyed, represent nearly 700,000 unlived years. With
all the incredible potential of each life and each year. WHAT
A STAGGERING THOUGHT.
At Henri Chapelle Military Cemetery near Liege, Belgium, I
always visit the grave of the man who was responsible for changing
my life. Yet, I never met Sgt. Joe Michaels. You see, Joe's half-track
was ambushed at Limont, Belgium. Joe was a radio operator. I
was a radio operator. Do I thank Joe for the job he created for
me? What a frightening thought.
Henri Chapelle lies in a setting of almost perfect peace and
tranquility. It seems as though even the birds whisper when they
fly overhead. In September, 2004, I met Joe Michaels' caretaker.
She told me that when a Belgian adopts a grave of an American
Soldier it is usually a permanent position. The Belgians understand
what it was like after 4 years of Nazi occupation. And what their
freedom we gave them means to them. Yes, we both had tears streaming
down our cheeks. Lale did too.
Andre Defer, a Belgian writer, says there is one thing you dare
not forget and you must keep eternally engraved in your heart.
It is the memory of those men who came from far away, from overseas,
and clung to the ground, fighting one against ten, falling down
under bombing and shelling for the name of LIBERTY. When you
pass before a military cemetery, when you see little white crosses
adorning the graves of American soldiers who fought in so many
of our little villages, from the depths of your heart, cry out
to them, THANK YOU - THANK YOU - THANK YOU.
At Margraten, Holland, where our Commanding General of the
3rd Armored Division, Maurice Rose, is buried with over 400 members
of our Division, the same anguish gnaws at me. This 46-year-old
General - a magnificent leader - a bright future still ahead
for him - deprived from serving his country another 20 years.
Yes, America was short changed.
All told 2,220 members of the 3rd Armored Division lost their
lives in Europe in WWII. About half were interred in their hometowns
and about 1,110 Spearheaders are at rest in these European cemeteries.
As my wife and I talk about these beautiful, serene and well-cared-for
American Military Cemeteries, we feel it's God's eternal reminder
of the enormity of the price that was paid for our freedom and
my freedom and privilege to stand here. And in standing here,
I would like to cry out to all those dear young Americans: YES,
YOU WERE ROBBED, indeed you were robbed of the most sublime gift
that we possess. You were robbed of your very lives, but we too
were robbed. We were robbed of you. We were robbed of your love
and we were robbed of your dreams and your hopes and your aspirations.
And, yes, we were robbed of those precious sons and daughters
that you never had the privilege to father and who would have
borne the image of your greatness. And we were also robbed of
those thousands of beloved grandsons and granddaughters who would
never know the magnitude of your sacrifice. Yes, we were all
robbed by that terrible and insidious thief called war.
All I can say to Tom Rubritz's family and Joe Michaels' family
and General Rose's family and all the 2,220 Spearhead families
who have suffered such terrible loss is to simply sing the words
to the anthem for which those young men died:
AMERICA, AMERICA, GOD SHED HIS GRACE ON THEE, AND CROWN THY GOOD
WITH BROTHERHOOD FROM SEA TO SHINING SEA.
~ Bill Ruth