Servicemembers, civilians join in Luxembourg to honor veterans

SPANGDHALEM AIR BASE, Germany -- Servicemembers, American and Luxembourg civilians, families and veterans stepped into the cold from their warm vehicles Nov. 11 to pay tribute to members of the armed forces during a Veterans Day ceremony at the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial.

The cold those people felt bundled in layers and wearing gloves as they wandered among the monuments and more than 5,000 gravesites, likely could not compare to the bone-chilling cold so many servicemembers felt during the winter of 1944 - 1945 when so many lost their lives in the Battle of the Bulge.

More than 50 acres serve as the final resting place to many who lost their lives fighting for freedom, their families and their country.

"We pause today to remember the service of our fellow countrymen, the commitment that they have made to a country that has stood for freedom over the past 200 years," said Chaplain (Capt.) Paul Joyner, 52nd Fighter Wing chaplain, during the ceremony invocation. "We ask also to remember those that sacrificed their very lives for the freedom that many nations now enjoy. Because of the dedication of these American veterans, people and nations all over the world have come to know freedom, and how valuable and how costly it truly is."

The 702nd Munitions Support Squadron Honor Guard from Buechel Air Base, Germany, posted the colors; volunteers from the 52nd FW stood in formation; and the Singing Sabers sang the Luxembourg and American national anthems.

Additionally, members of the 101st Airborne Division Belgian Friendly stood in formation clad in antiquated military uniforms; a Marine assisted with laying wreaths at the cemetery's white stone chapel; and Zach Lofton, an Eagle Scout from Troop 165, Spangdahlem Air Base, read the presidential Veterans Day proclamation, making the ceremony a true collaboration of units and services.

"In the past 64 years, and in the name of liberty for all, these hallowed grounds of Luxembourg have served as the final resting place for thousands of America's fallen warriors," said Mark Biedlingmaier, U.S. Chargè d'Affaires of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. "Each headstone in this cemetery, row after row, has an individual story to tell. Collectively they stand as a testament to our greatest generation - a generation of men and women called upon by their country to leave their families and homes to liberate the people of Europe."

The cemetery, established in 1944, serves as the burial place for 5,076 American servicemembers, to include 22 instances where two brothers are buried together, as well as the remains of 101 "Unknowns," according to the American Battle Monuments Commission.

"Those who rest here made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom... I want to offer a sincere thanks to the people and government of Luxembourg for continuing to honor the sacrifices of the American soldiers who fought and died for their liberation," Mr. Biedlingmaier said. "The greatest memorial to these fallen heroes, though, is not found in the monuments we erect or the words we utter. It is the one we have built together since the end of that horrible day, the great alliance that stood for peace for over 60 years.

"Through our shared and continued commitment we will ensure the freedom of future generations. May our blossomed friendship continue to flourish for centuries to come."

A 21-gun salute and solemn playing of taps sounded after the laying of wreaths to mark the closing of the ceremony.

After the official ceremony, wreaths were laid at the gravesite of Gen. George S. Patton, U.S. Third Army commander during World War II, by his granddaughter, Helen Patton-Plusczyk. Originally, General Patton was buried among the other soldiers, but the foot traffic killed the grass near the grave. Thus, General Patton's grave was moved to its current location, as though it is watching over the graves of the soldiers who served with him.

"He did not ever consider himself to need to be here," Mrs. Patton-Plusczyk said, referring to the general's position at the head of the graveyard. "He considered himself to be there, with the other soldiers."

The reasons people attended varied - to etch the grave of a loved one or historical figure, or to pay tribute to unknown comrades.

One Saber, dressed in an M43 World War II paratroopers uniform and standing in formation with 101st Airborne Division Belgian Friendly, attended to honor his family.

"Both of my grandfathers served, actually. My one grandfather was in the first armored division in Northern Africa and in Italy. My other grandfather was in the Navy on the USS Woodworth. Both received Bronze Stars with 'Valor' and Purple Hearts," said Tech. Sgt. Larry Kellogg, 52nd Equipment Maintenance Squadron combat support NCO in charge. "My uncles, my brother, my dad - we've all served. My family has a very rich military tradition. This is just another way - wearing the World War II uniform - to honor the dead who are buried here on Veterans Day."