This place is more than carved words on graves
- For you, Epinal Tourisme is: An attractive, human-scale city
- Your favorite local dish is: Pâté from Lorraine
- Your favorite local touristic place is: The Roseraie (rose garden) in Épinal
Place of memory
It was, for most of us, our first visit to the American Cemetery, on our English teacher’s initiative. This tour is part of the “Lorraine, land of memory“ school theme, on which we have been working on since the beginning of the year and which aims at making us discover the local heritage.
At the entrance we are welcomed by a white, immaculate and majestic memorial next to which Anne, a volunteer guide, greets us. Because of the serenity of the surroundings, you would never guess the fierce, resentful and savage battles that the 5253 American soldiers and citizens now buried here went through, Anne the guide reminds us.
Once we reach the main courtyard, Anne tells us how many war orphans, deceased soldiers’ families or visitors are still coming … From France or even from the other side of the Atlantic, they come to think in silence about these men and these women, whose dreams will never be realised.
Anne is soon joined by Jean-Michel, another volunteer, and they invite us to follow them. It is hard to put words on the rest of the tour. We pace up and down the alleys where graves are lined up. On some of them we can see the Star of David, on others a catholic cross. As we come closer to one of them, we can make out the name of a woman, “Helen M.Crowell“ and a little further, a Japanese name, "Mitsulu E; MIYOKO"...
The headstones are lined up as far as the eye can go. However, these are not just words carved on graves anymore, thanks to the great research work conducted by the volunteers of the place. Throughout the tour, Anne and Jean-Michel give us the feats of arms of some and tell stories about others…
It is at this very moment that we fully realise the consequences of this conflict, which goes further than dreadful numbers taught in class. It is at this very moment that we realise how millions of lives were broken … Like the sergeant Paul W.Rucker, killed at 25 on the 8th of November 1944… We take the time to honour him, exactly 74 years after his death.
Poppies to remember
As part of the commemorations of the end of the First World War, we make felted poppies. This flower is mentioned in In Flanders Fields by John McCrae, Canadian lieutenant colonel. It became the symbol of the victims of European battles and of devastated landscapes, where chalky soils mixed with lime were necessary conditions to allow the flower to blossom into this blazing colour.
We all went back to the different alleys with our poppies in hand and left one on each of the soldiers’ graves, to perpetuate their memory but also to make sure that their sacrifice would not be forgotten.
Stars and Stripes
As the sun starts to set, Anne invites us to watch the flag lowering ceremony and gives us a few details about its meaning and the protocol. For example, the “Stars and Stripes“ must always be under a source of light. In the American Cemetery, where no spotlight lights it up during the night, the flag must be lowered down at the end of each day.
There is also a protocol for the folding of the flag, which is very symbolic. We listen to Anne’s explanations carefully and discover how it is supposed to be done correctly. Every step has a particular meaning, the first fold embodying life.
The visit ends with this ceremony, Anne thanks us for the attention we shown during the day. For many of us, it was a celebration of life, a will to never waste the beauty of a beating heart out of respect for these men and women gone way too soon.