Friday, November 11, 2011

Visiting Tommy Bouton's Grave

I've been meaning to publish this for a while, and since today is Veterans Day back in the United States, it seemed like a proper time to do so.

On Friday, October 14, Andy and I flew into Eindhoven, Netherlands and took a few trains and buses to reach the American Cemetery near Margraten, Netherlands. This cemetery is one of the largest in Europe and also where my grandfather's cousin Tommy Bouton is buried. Over 8,000 soldiers are buried at this cemetery.

The Dutch Countryside

When we arrived at the cemetery, we stopped by the office where one of the Assistant Superintendent Richard Arsenaeault greeted us, asked us to sign the special family guestbook, and guided us to Tommy's grave. During the walk he gave us some background on the cemetery, noting how important it is to the Dutch people. Each of the graves are taken care of by a local Dutch family who visits on Memorial Day and Christmas, sometimes more often, and this role is often passed down through generations. The Dutch man who currently takes care of Tommy's grave is the grandson of the original woman. There is a three year waiting list to become a new caretaker.

When we got to the grave, Richard rubbed sand into the name and dates so they would be more visible in photos. This sand is from Omaha Beach, which was very cool and touching. He placed a flag in the ground that has been used at one of their Memorial Day celebrations in the past. He then let us have time at Tommy's grave and time to explore the cemetery, but told us to stop by the office on our way out. He would have a packet of information for us. It really touched me how kind these ABMC (American Battle Monuments Commission) staff are to families, it was incredible. We ended up leaving at 5pm, the closing time of the cemetery, but Richard told us to spend as much time as we wanted. We didn't need to worry about leaving by 5, he had families arrive after 5 in the past that they stayed open for. On the way out, Richard gave us a packet of information with pages of information about Tommy's unit, the 97th Infantry Division, 387th Infantry Regiment, a card with a photo of myself at Tommy's grave and more information.

I had made the visit partly because I personally wanted to but also because I knew it meant a lot to my mother. It has been her dream to come and she hasn't been able to yet. When planning my trip to Köln, it was cheap to fly into Eindhoven so I was determined to visit the cemetery. I left being so grateful I had chosen to visit it. These men are such a large part of not only American history, but world history. The sacrifice they made is the ultimate sacrifice, and we must be always appreciate what they gave. On this Veterans Day I am grateful for every person who has served in our Armed Forces. I am grateful for Tommy who died while crossing the Rhine River between Düsseldorf and Köln, and for my grandfather Paul who made it home to start the wonderful family I am a part of.

At five o'clock I was standing near the front of the cemetery, about to leave, as a bugler began to play taps. Looking back at the monument and the cemetery behind it, tears came to my eyes. Gratitude, pride for my country and love for all of our brave soldiers were in my heart.