Monday, May 28, 2012

Road Trip: An American Cemetery

It's Memorial Day here in the U.S., and this is just the post for it. So, rise and shine! It's a road trip!

On Friday morning, our host Jerry, Rick and I took off on a two-day road trip. We got a late start and the weather was terrible, but we were determined to head to Brittany, Mont Saint Michel and our first stop, the American Cemetery at St. James.

Jerry was looking for the graves of his uncles -- he'd been there once before, long ago. At first, we couldn't find the cemetery -- signage in the charming town of St. James left a bit to be desired. Eventually, we did find it and set about looking for Jerry's relatives.

The office was closed when we arrived, so for some time we searched among the rows and rows of white crosses.

Eventually, Walter, who was working there that day, came back from lunch and we were able to find the graves. He also gave us a bit of World War II history in the lovely chapel.

The chapel -- as you can see from this photo -- has large maps in the tile of the walls.

The flags displayed also featured those of the French and British.

Walter took us to the roof, where we could see an overview of the cemetery through the pouring rain. He explained how it was designed to match a specific plan based around the image of a sword (the center aisle) and the semi-circular borders.

He also explained there were a number of graves marked as men known only to God. These graves held a body part of an unknown soldier.

Another wall marked those who had been missing and "sleep in unknown graves."

We moved onto the graves. Walter took sand and rubbed it into the detailed etching of the name, wiping off the surface.

It allowed the name to stand out. We then took photos of Jerry to share with his family.

For Jerry, it was a day of personal significance. For Rick and me, a somber occasion and one that prompted many thoughts of the men who died in France fighting for the Allies in World War II.

We were off again, this time to Mont Saint-Michel. But the visit to the cemetery left us with much to ponder and much for which to be grateful. As we honor all who have served, and those who are no longer with us, sending Memorial Wishes.

Lessons from the Road:

The French are dutiful, perhaps even rigid about lunch at noon. If you will be requiring the services of someone like Walter to help you find someone specific at the cemetery, call ahead or arrive prior to or after lunch! 

NOTE: Two things -- first, coming up soon will be a drawing honoring my 800th post. This may be it, but I have unpublished drafts and those seem to count, so probably not! That said, comments on this post and all of this series of vacation posts, as well as the "Goodbye Mr. Gyps" post will be entered.

Second, thank you -- all -- for such kind words on that post about Gypsy. I think I've reached most of you in person but if not, please know how much your kind words, your support, your follow-up emails and cards have helped Rick and me through a most challenging and sad time.


Joanne Huffman said...

The perfect posting for Memorial Day.

Jeanie said...

What an interesting and poignant part this was of your Parisian holiday. I agree that it is the perfect post for today.

Maggie said...

A poignant and moving post, just right for Memorial Day.
How I wish we had been at home when you visited France last month.

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

This certainly was a timely post for Memorial Day. I am so glad I went on that Beaches of Normandy Tour and got a chance to see this region of France. It was definitely an emotional experience to see those crosses all lined up... It was beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time, if that makes any sense.

Marilyn said...

Yes, it is the perfect posting for Memorial Day. Thanks!

Wow 800! That's alot. I think I am almost at 1000. I need to look.

Janet said...

Just right for Memorial Day. The cemetery grounds look so green and well-kept. I'm glad you were able to locate the graves you were looking for.

Peter Olson said...

Really good that you made it there! I have been there and, although I'm not American, it's certainly an extremely emotional visit! How thankful we should be to all those who lay there ... and of course also to those who survived!

Toriz said...

Beautiful post!

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

What a beautiful, moving post for Memorial Day, Jeanie! The pictures are amazing. I felt so vividly there -- and so keenly the sacrifices of these young Americans.

Annie said...

I've always felt that the French are uniquely complete in their honoring of the dead who gave thier all to save them in World War II. The most moving sites I've seen all come from France. Viva la France.

Arti said...

Thanks for a moving post, Jeanie. It's not a holiday Monday for us. We don't have Memorial Day, but we do have Remembrance Day on Nov. 11th. After watching Downton Abbey, I've been reading and watching films with setting in that period, ie WWI There's so much to learn that I've not paid much attention. No matter what period though, seeing rows and rows of white crosses is utterly poignant.

Icy BC said...

Wonderful posts, Jeanie, and beautiful photos!

The unknown graves made me teary :-(

Anonymous said...

So meaningful and timely, Jeanie. Thank you for sharing it with us.

joyce said...

I imagine your Memorial Day is much like our Remembrance Day. I've been to a Canadian Cemetary in Holland, much the same, very sombering, especially as my boys come up to the ages of many of those soldiers.

Jennifer Richardson said...

what moving images,
perfect for this season,
my heart already stirred
all swollen with thanks
and now to see these sites
is like a benediction.
Thank you,

Cheryl said...

I never knew about the sand being put on the marker to bring out the name... thats neat. Seeing all those crosses brings one comfort-- yet each one was erected with such grief. *sigh*

I was soooooooooo deeply saddened to hear of the passing of your beloved cat. I too know of the utter (debilitating at times) grief over losing a pet. I always vow "no more pets".... that works for a few hours lol I now I have 5 cats.... lol
big heartfelt hug!

OldLady Of The Hills said...

What a very Beautiful Cemetary...And a rather sobering and lovely thing to do in honor of Memorial Day. Your pictures are wonderful....

I've been thinking about you and Rick, and I send you Healing Hugs, my dear....I know how hard this time is---I truly do.....!

shoreacres said...

I never see photos of these cemeteries without thinking of the poem, "In Flanders field..."

The quiet dignity is so touching. And I'm glad to know about the little trick of using sand to help the inscriptions on stones and markers stand out.

I've fallen so behind in everything, but I'm slowly catching up - I can't wait to make my way through your Paris posts. I know they'll be filled with spectacular photos, not to mention your always delightful commentary!

Privet and Holly said...

We watched a lot
of war movies over
the weekend, but
this post truly brings
it "home." Amazing
pics and how lovely
that Walter showed
up to guide you through.

Happy Wednesday!

xo Suzanne

Retired English Teacher said...

A picture is truly worth a thousand words. The number of crosses in this cemetery is sobering. I have a great uncle buried in France who died in WWI. I would love to find the grave. I'm so happy Jerry was able to find the one of his family member.

All of these photos are just beautiful.

jet1960 said...

Losses of war can seem just numbers you learn in history class. Rows and rows of markers make it more real. Sounds like it was a special visit.

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