I have posted several blogs about a vacation we recently took to France and Spain. In one of the posts, I mentioned a romantic story that I would tell later. Now is later so here is the story:
My mother-in-law, Carol was born in 1916 to a middle-class family who had property and a small farm in Minnesota. Her family valued education and encouraged her to attend college after high school. She graduated from the University of Minnesota, with a degree in education in the late 1930s. Think about the time and how rare it was for women to attend college. But Carol was feisty and that is what she did despite some of the biases women had to deal with, at that time, when they didn’t marry right out of high school.
Carol is a petite woman, and has been her whole life. She is still attractive despite her age of 95. Her eyes are always sparkling and she has a self-confident air about her. She absolutely loves kids and still remains emotionally watchful of her 4 children, 10 grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren. That she truly enjoys kids is evident in how she treated my 3 grandchildren when I took them to visit her in August.
Considering how much energy my 5-year old twin granddaughters and 3-year grandson can have, especially after having been cooped up in the car for 90 minutes they were totally well-behaved and gentle with Carol. While they came bounding into Carol’s room to greet her with hugs, they were not forceful and sensed her fragility. After that, they began exploring all of her knick-knacks with the joy of being given permission by her to touch and carry. They would bring items up to her and she, who can’t hear very well, has a somewhat failing memory and doesn’t always feel in very good health, smiled patiently and told them little stories about each item. She truly engaged their short attention spans in a sweet and fun way.
Now the love story: Carol had a high school love, Bud, who graduated college around the same time as she did. They dated for several years after that. He became a 2nd Lieutenant in the army and she began teaching school. They did together the kinds of things young lovers do at that time, such as go to dances, enjoy friends, picnic, cheer their home team at sporting events and celebrate holidays. Hanging over their heads constantly, was the possibility that Bud would have to ship out to Europe. As time went on, Bud was called on to be part of the U.S. forces in Germany and France. Before he left for his overseas mission, Bud and Carol got married. They had a short time together as husband and wife before he had to depart. Bud went willingly and with pride that he would be able to fight for what our country believed. Bud’s parents loved Carol and took her under their wing as they awaited news from Bud.
As you might have guessed, Bud didn’t make it home. Three months after their marriage, Carol learned that Bud was killed, as the allies made their way through Europe. He was buried in France. Sadly, while Carol was given Bud’s personal items, she never saw his gravesite – not even a photo.
No doubt Carol mourned her first love greatly. However, she didn’t sit around feeling sorry for herself. She began volunteering, as a first aide assistant, working with wounded soldiers who returned home after suffering some type of serious injury. While doing that, she met a sweetheart of a man, my husband’s father, Len. While she was helping to care for his injuries, he began to care for her too. His injuries began to heal, as did her heart. Some time after, they married and had four wonderful children.
Unfortunately, Len died at the age of 72 and I didn’t meet my husband, Allan, until many years after. Therefore, I never had the pleasure of knowing his father. While Len was obviously Carol’s love, she never forgot Bud. Len, being the loving secure man that he was, agreed to name his youngest son after Bud. After all, if Bud hadn’t given his life for our country, he would never have been able to marry the love of his life. A bittersweet thought, to say the least!
My husband Allan has always had an interest in military history. He began questioning his mother more about Bud and his service, including when and where his death occurred. Carol is in kidney failure. She is getting weaker and her cognitive functioning is deteriorating, but she remembers Bud and still tears up when thinking about him. She expressed her profound sadness about not seeing where he is buried. Allan thought it might be meaningful for Carol to at least see a photo of his gravesite. After doing research, Allan learned that Bud is buried at the Lorraine American cemetery in Saint-Avold, France.
Of course, our first stop, after landing in Frankfurt, Germany, was the Lorraine American Cemetery and Memorial in Saint-Avold France. The Cemetery is pristinely maintained by the U.S. Government and looks like a miniature Arlington National Cemetery. The official information states that: “the Cemetery covers 113.5 acres and contains the largest number of graves of our military dead of World War II in Europe, a total of 10,489. Their headstones are arranged in nine plots in a generally elliptical design extending over the beautiful rolling terrain of eastern Lorraine and culminating in a prominent overlook feature. Most of the dead here were killed while driving the German forces from the fortress city of Metz toward the Siegfried Line and the Rhine River. Initially, there were over 16,000 Americans interred in the St. Avold region, mostly from the U.S. Seventh Army’s Infantry and Armored Divisions and its Cavalry Groups. Saint-Avold served as a vital communications center for the vast network of enemy defenses guarding the western border of the Third Reich.”
We arrived at around 4:30 P.M. on a dark and misty day and were the only visitors to the Cemetery at that time. The military officer who manages the Cemetery greeted us and used his computer to locate Bud’s grave. Allan and I walked sadly to Bud’s grave in the light rain. While neither of us knew him personally, we were grief-stricken to see the rows and rows of Crosses and Stars of David’s that rolled across the grounds, as well as Bud’s grave. Here at his grave, this young man so loved by Allan’s mother came to life for me.
The officer, showing us the grave, used sand from the beaches of Normandy to highlight the words on Bud’s cross so they would be visible for photos. He also placed an American Flag in the ground in front of the cross for us to take back to Carol. It so happened that when we arrived at Bud’s grave, it was time for the flag lowering and for taps to play over the loud speaker. My usually stoic Allan began crying and I started and then we were both hugging each other and sobbing for the losses of life due to war and for Carol’s heartache. Then Allan, still sniffling, said that if Bud hadn’t died he might not have been born. Who knows, but for some reason that made me again think that everything happens for a reason. We stopped crying.
Allan just returned home after showing his mother the photo of the grave and the packet of information that we were given while at the Lorraine Cemetery that was specific to Bud. No doubt she will treasure that along with her memories of Bud and Len.
Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if our energies were all directed to peaceful enterprises rather than wars that need to be fought. Perhaps, some day!