Monday, November 18, 2013

The Power of Words

Photo by Darla Sue Dollman

Words that move gently through our thoughts and linger for contemplation 
are whispered 
like the flutter of a butterfly's wings.
Words expressed like the roar of a bear 
leave pain and scars.

The power of your words are in your method of expression.

 --Darla Sue Dollman

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veteran's Day Post: A Great Man and the Family who Loves Him

American War Cemetery Henri-Chapelle in Hombourg, Belgium. 
Photo provided by Simon Voogt.

Today is Veteran's Day in the United States. This is always an important day to me, reminding me of the sacrifices my ancestors made for me and my family. Like many American families, I have quite a few relatives and ancestors who served our country in the military, including my son-in-law, his sister, my brother-in-law, my many military friends, and my Uncle Hubert. The sacrifices they made, and continue to make, are always on my mind. I am proud to be an American, and I enjoy my freedom. I know it is their sacrifices that make my freedom a possibility. 

American War Cemetery Henri-Chapelle in Hombourg, Belgium. 
Photo provided by Simon Voogt.

Is it possible to feel compassion and love for someone you have never met? I believe it is possible, especially when that person has made the ultimate sacrifice for you--their life. My Uncle Hubert died in World War II. He sacrificed his life for me, for his family, for complete strangers. He died to protect the freedom of others. 

A few days ago, I received an email from a caretaker at the American War Cemetery Henri-Chappelle in Hombourg, Belgium. His job, he explained, is to care for the graves of four soldiers and keep their information updated on the internet pages established to honor these soldiers. He came across a post I made on a genealogy website years ago. A stranger left virtual flowers on an internet page that had the name of my uncle. I asked for information about my uncle. I wanted to know where he was buried. The caretaker wasn't sure if I had found my uncle's grave site yet and wanted to reassure me that his grave was well cared for. 

I stared at the message, then I started to cry. I feel great love and compassion for this man I never met, this young man who, at the age of 20, died in a foreign country and is buried so far away from those who knew and loved him. Then suddenly, in a random act of compassion and kindness, I was contacted by another man writing to reassure me that my uncle's grave is cared for, and that his sacrifice is not forgotten. In fact, he is honored each year in Belgium by strangers who thank him for sacrificing his life to protect them.  

Hubert Enlists

My uncle was the oldest child in my father's family. He attended Woodward High School and worked briefly at Willy's Overland Motors. He enlisted as soon as he was old enough. The Great Depression had recently come to an end in the United States, so he would have lived through the Depression with his parents and eight siblings. Like many young men his age, enlisting was a way to help support his family, as well as help protect the safety and freedom of his family.

I think of him often. If he had lived, what would he be like? Would he talk about the war? Would he suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder like another one of my favorite war heroes, actor Audie Murphy? Would he have a family, with many children like his parents, and so many grandchildren that he sometimes forgot their names, but not their faces or the love he felt for them? I wish that I had met him. To me, he will always be a great man, a man who sacrificed his life for his parents, his eight siblings, their spouses and children and grandchildren--family he never knew existed, but will never forget what he did for them.  

Uncle Hubert left Ohio for training. He received his military training at Fort Meade in Maryland. He was in the 2nd Infantry Division 23rd Infantry Regiment. Forgive me if I write this incorrectly. From what I can tell, his regiment fought on D-Day at Normandy Beach, and he remarkably survived. He was then sent to Belgium. The first ceremony for American troops held on German soil took place in November of 1944 to honor the 23rd Infantry. Major General W.M. Robertson, Divisional Commander, presented decorations for heroism to officers and men of the regiment. 

On December 12, the regiment moved 30 miles north to the vicinity of Sourbrodt, Belgium. My Uncle Hubert died on December 18, 1944. He is buried in Plot E, Row 8, Grave 33. So many numbers, but to me, he was never a number. 

Hubert was 20 years old when he died, younger than my own children, almost one third my age. He made the ultimate sacrifice for us, for a family he never knew existed. My father was just a child when his oldest brother died. My father still remembers when his mother received the notice that her oldest son, her first child, had died. He remembered watching his mother faint and fall to the floor.    

The Caretaker's Message

The caretaker who wrote to me told me he lives near the cemetery. He assured me that my uncle's grave is visited each year by people in his community, members of the royal family, veterans and politicians who make speeches thanking the soldiers for their efforts to stop Hitler's forces. I wrote back and told him I shared his message with my family, with my father, Uncle Hubert's youngest brother. I told this man, this stranger who had given me so much in that short message, that there were no words that could fully express the gratitude I felt for his kindness. 

Then I shared with him my thoughts about my Uncle Humbert. So young, and yet, so brave. He will always be my hero.