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In Memory Of...

May 26, 2014

I was not familiar with the Battle of Monte Cassino when I spotted the buildings high on the mountaintop as our bus rolled into the parking lot of a well-tended cemetery. Yet fellow travelers on our bus were pulling out handkerchiefs and wiping their eyes even before the bus braked to a stop. For some, this was the focus of their trip, the reason they’d come, to see the place where their fathers and brothers closed their eyes forever during a series of battles that stretched over a hundred and twenty-three days taking thousands of Axis and Allied lives.

    

The weather was dreadful in February of 1944 when the ground we stood on was soaked with blood, but this was a beautiful day; flowers perfumed the air as we stepped out of the bus and took in the view of the abbey looming over us. In 1944 the Germans controlled central Italy and Allied armies had to pass by here in order to break through to Rome. The Germans had made arrangements not to occupy the ancient fifth century Benedictine abbey but the Allies didn’t know this. They bombed the abbey, creating a mountain of rubble perfect for Germans to hide in while targeting our troops. Before routing the Germans in fiercely contested combat, nearly 55,000 Allied soldiers perished. 20,000 Germans were killed or wounded.

 

 

   

Battle for Monte Cassino Feb. 1944

 

Our tour bus shrank into the distance as we passed further among the graves, our feet sinking into carpet-thick grass as buzzing bees pollinated colorful flowers. Mrs. Chatterbox and I read names and whispered at the pathetically young ages of many of the soldiers resting beneath our feet. Many of the tombstones bore Rudyard Kipling’s famous tribute to unknown servicemen: Here lies a soldier of the Great War, his identity known only unto God. One tombstone bore the name of an eighteen year old who fell in battle on November eighth, eight years to the day before my own birthday. He’d only been a kid when he breathed his last, never returned home to marry and provide his parents with grandchildren. It was almost too painful to bear, these acres of tombstones, each shading the remains of someone who fought and died defending his country, his way of life, his loved ones.

 

    

The abbey high on the hilltop has since been rebuilt; today it’s as beautiful as ever. Craters from artillery shells that once pockmarked the countryside are now filled in and covered by flowers, tread marks from tanks washed away by rain. But the bodies of our slain warriors still lie far from home. Here they will remain, forever broken and too rarely remembered. My uncle fought in the shadow of this abbey and could easily have been one of the fallen resting beneath one of these markers. He lost many comrades but he was fortunate and returned home, never to speak of what happened here.

 

 

 

    

 

Today is Memorial Day and it should be more than a time for camping trips, slurping beer and gorging at picnics. It should be a time to set aside our petty grievances and reflect on the price of freedom, a price paid by young people like my childhood neighbor Darwin Thomas, killed in Vietnam, as well as countless others whose identities are known only unto God. Great nations need more than lofty ideals to flourish; they require great sacrifices. Surely we can come together for one day to say thank you.

 

 



Comments

30 Comments
beautifully written and felt. When we pause to look at the cost of our liberties, we should be humbled by the sacrifice, if only for one day. Thank you.
By: Oma Linda on May 26, 2014
I thought the other day about the people who have died for our freedoms when I took myself out to vote, even though in my constituency there is not much point in doing so, as it is a pretty safe seat.
By: Jenny on May 26, 2014
They were kids... weren't they? It is unbelievable the things they did... the events they experienced... and the deaths they suffered... God Bless them all... Thank you for writing this. ~shoes~
By: redshoes51 on May 26, 2014
Here, here!
By: PT Dilloway on May 26, 2014
A fitting tribute to the fallen.
By: Daniel LaFrance on May 26, 2014
Dave and I went there, but only to the abbey. We could see the cemetary off on the hillside from a distance. It was moving.
By: laurel on May 26, 2014
123 days... i cannot imagine. bless them all and the families who never received them home.
By: TexWisGirl on May 26, 2014
I have no words, but thank you for this post.
By: Robyn Engel on May 26, 2014
Heatbreaking. Thank you, Stephen. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on May 26, 2014
Beautiful post, Stephen.
By: Scott Park on May 26, 2014
Well written and well felt post. Tears always fall when I read the names of very young men who never really got to live. Those who remain on foreign soil where their families will never see their resting place. So very sad. .
By: Akansas Patti on May 26, 2014
"...more than a time for camping trips, slurping beer and gorging at picnics." Amen. We can thank those who saw fit to make it part of the three day weekend for what has happened to a solemn occasion.
By: (not necessarily your) Uncle Skip on May 26, 2014
Wonderfully written, Stephen, as always and I share your sentiments.
By: Catalyst on May 26, 2014
Nice heartfelt tribute. We forget what an absolute horror WWII was. I recently reread The Longest Day (70th anniversary coming up in abt. 10 days) -- and was reminded that over 100,000 people were killed in France that summer.
By: Tom Sightings on May 26, 2014
You really pulled some things together to help us to remember those who perished for freedom.
By: red on May 26, 2014
May we never forget their sacrifice.
By: mimi on May 26, 2014
Beautiful- simply beautiful.
By: Shelly on May 27, 2014
Wonderful piece Stephen...thank you.
By: Kathe W. on May 27, 2014
Yes...may we never forget. May we never repeat.
By: Pixel Peeper on May 27, 2014
Very beautiful, Stephen.
By: Hilary on May 27, 2014
Horrible, horrible, horrible. WWII should have been a deterrent to war for a hundred years. Forever. Arrogant politicians don't care about the lives of underlings.
By: Lexa Cain on May 27, 2014
Mans greed and quest for power has a lot to answer for
By: John on May 28, 2014
Great account! It was during this battle where former Senator Bob Dole was so horribly wounded. During a recent news report on him, I found it rather interesting (in a horrifyingly sort of way) that his medical treatments after returning home from the war were paid for through the fund-raising efforts of friends and family.
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on May 28, 2014
I am always amazed when reading the numbers of the losses during past (or current) wars. It's hard to wrap my mind about how thousands of men can die in one battle. There is something majestic about military graveyards. I am in awe when I occasionally visit Arlington National Cemetery.
By: Cheryl P. on May 29, 2014
How did I miss this? Congrats on your POTW!!
By: Cranky on June 9, 2014
came back to say congrats on your POTW!
By: TexWisGirl on June 9, 2014
came back to say congrats on your POTW!
By: TexWisGirl on June 9, 2014
Amen and Amen, Stephen. So well written, as usual. One of the neighbors on the street where I grew up was one of the first POW's of WWII. I wish his son (who was my pal) had never shared some of his Dad's stories with me. Those stories, I would later learn, are why men never talk about war if they make it back home.
By: Michael Manning on June 9, 2014
What a lovely tribute, I celebrate with memories of those who served
By: Out on the prairie on June 10, 2014
Very nice, Stephen. My Stepfather fought in that battle, was wounded, received the Bronze Star, is still alive to tell about it (although he almost never wants to.) I wrote about it, for the Boston Herald, in 2013. I would give a link, but it's archived...
By: Suldog on June 14, 2014

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