How much time do any of us spend thinking about Memorial Day? Not much would be a common answer I guess. Up until three years ago, that would have been my answer. But then I was invited to a Memorial Day service in Provence, the southern part of France.
I bet you're wondering why would I go to France to celebrate Memorial Day? Throughout Europe there are 24 American cemeteries where our men and women are buried from World I and World War II. When a soldier was killed in Europe, the family had a choice to either have their loved one buried in an American cemetery in Europe or come home to be buried. Many families made the choice to have their children buried where they died.
Three years ago I was visiting France staying with friends to do research for a new cookbook. My friend asked to come a day early, because she thought I would enjoy attending the Memorial Day service at the Rhone American Cemetery and Memorial in Draguignan, France. There are 860 men and 1 women buried in this cemetery,
That day changed how I feel about Memorial Day forever. I was so proud to be there as an American and honor the men and women who gave their life serving our country.
I remember the day was hot but there had to be almost 200 people there, mostly French. I was so impressed. I didn't understand many of the speeches, but it didn't matter. At the end of the day's events they played the French National Anthem and then the American National Anthem.
A French woman sitting behind me saw me speaking English with my friend, asked me if I was an American. She told me that her and her family come every year to the ceremony at this cemetery, because they will never forget how the Americans freed them from the Nazi Occupation. Imagine, and we think the French don't like us. They love us!
On Sunday a friend and I were having a discussion about my experience on Memorial Day in France. He has served in the military since he was 17. He feels many times soldiers and veterans are treated poorly. He knows that first hand. He feels one reason is we have never had a war fought on American soil. Most of us have never really been exposed to war, like they have in Europe and in other parts of the world. Maybe if we had fought a war on American soil, we might feel different about Memorial Day, and about the men and women who serve our country every day.
I learned so many lessons from that experience in France three years ago. When I see a soldier today, I really appreciate the sacrifice he or she makes for all of us. God's speed to all of the people serving in the military.