Two months ago I took my 18 year old son, Josh, to Europe. We landed in Germany and made a big loop visiting Berlin, Czech Republic, Switzerland, France, Austria, and Luxembourg. We saw lots of castles and museums, and even connected with an old friend who I played hockey with in Europe. We put on 2,200 miles in 9 days and had a great time doing it.
There were two places that I really wanted Josh to see. The first was Dachau. Dachau is located north of Munich and is famous for it’s WWII Nazi prison camp. I wanted Josh to see Dachau so that he would be able to see and experience what happens when a tyrant leader gains control. The day we arrived it was cold and rainy. We walked up to the gate that reads in German, “Work will set you free.” After entering the 10 acre site we walked to the admissions building that still stands as it did when the Nazis ran it. But now instead of taking prisoners in, it shows pictures and tells the story of the evil Nazi empire. The large rooms were full of thousands of pictures of real people who were imprisoned there. Dachau was a prison for men, women, and children. As soon as they entered the facility they were sorted according to their physical abilities. Many of the sick, wounded, and elderly were immediately killed. Those who were healthy were placed into overcrowded buildings and forced to work for the Nazi machine.
After touring the main building we walked to the opposite side of the camp. I took Josh to a large brown brick building with two large smoke stacks. I had a sick feeling in my stomach as we walked in. The building stands today just as it did at the end of WWII. Inside the building were two large crematoriums. This was the very room where tens of thousands of people were cremated. Some were brought to the building alive, hung on the rafters, then placed in the ovens. My mind focused on the depravity of people who were more than willing to kill innocent people all day long and then go home to their own Nazi families tucking their kids in at night. After we left the building I stopped to read a sign on a post. It had a picture of the building and right next to it was a pile of human bodies awaiting cremation. I had a sick feeling in my stomach when I realized I was standing in the same place that the picture was taken. Josh and I didn’t talk much as we left the camp. The horrors of history had already said it all.
The second place I really wanted Josh to see was the American cemetery in Luxembourg. It is a beautiful place that is immaculately kept. The grass was lush and green. As you walk into the cemetery there are two large stone walls that tell the story of the Americans marching through Europe defeating the Nazis. Every battle was won by men and women who fought valiantly for their country protecting its ideals, freedoms, and land. America stood up for those in Europe who could not or did not. After reading the walls, we walked to the place where 5,076 fallen American soldiers are buried. The soldiers are all buried as if they are in formation and at the head of the formation General George S. Patton is buried. He is buried facing his troops who respected him as their general. It is a symbolic and fitting way to remember General Patton for his determination to defeat the Nazis.
While standing next to General Patton’s grave facing his soldiers, it takes your breath away when you realize the sacrifice the soldiers made when called to serve their country. If it wasn’t for men and women like them, all of Europe would be speaking German right now. As I stood and stared at the graves I could not have been more proud to be an American.
General Patton said, “Wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men. It is the spirit of men who follow and of the man who leads that gains the victory.”
This Memorial Day we gather as a nation, united, to remember those who fought and died for this great nation. We are forever grateful for their determination and resolve to fight for voiceless victims. It is because of them that we still enjoy freedom and democracy without the fear of being thrown into a prison camp.
We have the greatest military the world has ever known. Right now our soldiers are standing guard over land and sea protecting the American way of life. They were not forced to stand guard, they volunteered. So today we memorialize the fallen and show our gratitude to those who have served. We also salute the soldiers standing guard right now. May God bless our troops and may God bless America.