Luxembourgers and Americans united as free citizens to pay tribute to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their freedoms, fulfilling a promise to never forget that price.
More than 200 citizens of both countries paid their respects to the legacy and valor of fallen American service members as part of a Memorial Day ceremony at the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial in Luxembourg, May 28, 2016.
David McKean, U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg; Lucien Weiler, marshall of the Luxembourg court; Simone Beissel, vice president of the Luxembourg Chamber of Deputies; U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Timothy Ray, 3rd Air Force and 17th Expeditionary Air Force commander; laid ceremonial wreaths and commemorated the fallen Americans ahead of the May 30 federal holiday observance.
“We gather today as countless others have done every year in Luxembourg since 1946 to honor our fallen heroes,” McKean said. “Behind me lies the final resting place of 5,075 brave young men and one brave young woman who died in service to our country, for the freedom of this beautiful country and for the freedom of the world.”
The ambassador remarked how every white marble cross or star marker represented an actual person—someone who made promises he intended to keep, and someone who undoubtedly had hopes and dreams for tomorrow.
Of particular note, McKean observed how many of those buried there had one thing in common that distinctly made them American: they were children of immigrants.
“The stories of these men tell the stories of America: we are the country of immigrants,” he said. “I think President Obama put it best when he said recently, ‘Immigration is at the core of our national character. It is our oldest tradition. It is who we are. It is what makes us exceptional.’ But these men were more than just children of immigrants – like [U.S. Army General George] Patton, they were also heroes. We may never have heard of them but they had family and friends and promises to keep. They had hopes and dreams.”
Both the ambassador and Ray laid wreaths on behalf of the American people and military. The ceremony also involved service members from the American and Luxembourg armed forces, including Airmen from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany.
The installation's Honor Guard presented the American, Luxembourg and U.S. Air Force flags and later performed a ceremonial volley with the backdrop of the cemetery of the Airmen’s predecessors-in-arms, many who died during the Battle of the Bulge.
In his speech, Ray highlighted the legacies of U.S. Army Private William D. McGee and U.S. Army Sergeant Day G. Turner, who both posthumously earned the Medal of Honor for heroism in World War II, as well as U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Nancy Leo, 216th General Hospital nurse, who is the only woman buried in Luxembourg’s cemetery.
“President Reagan said, ‘The martyrs of history were not fools,’ – they did not die in vain,” the general said. “The fallen who lay before you today secured for us what we must guarantee for the present and for the future. We have an obligation to face that dilemma – to choose freedom and pursue it will all of our energy.”
Ray added how history showed how people have always been faced with threats to their freedom and how the present time is no different.
Today, U.S. Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa Airmen conduct combined training and theater security cooperation engagements with allies and partners aiming to demonstrate a shared commitment to promoting a Europe that is whole, free and at peace.
“I believe we have to do more than simply remember,” the general said. “We have to collectively think about the choices we as free people need to make about our current situation today and tomorrow. Tyrants and tyranny have been a part of human history, no doubt about that. They have been with us in the past, they are with us today and they will be with us in the future.”
The first official Memorial Day observance occurred at Arlington National Cemetery May 30, 1868, to honor and decorate the graves of those who died during the Civil War. The holiday serves as an opportunity to pause and remember the sacrifices of more than one million Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who gave their lives in defense of freedom.
“Today we come together in this beautiful place, on this beautiful day, as others gather at American cemeteries abroad and across the United States to remind one another that we have not forgotten and that we are so proud of the men and women who serve their country so valiantly,” McKean said. “We are so grateful that through all these years the people of the Grand Duchy have continued to lovingly watch over and pay tribute to the brave Americans that stayed behind. God bless our service men and women around the world today. God bless Luxembourg and God bless the United States of America.”