The lessons of sacrifice from Memorial Day ceremony in France

The lessons of sacrifice from Memorial Day ceremony in France
Rear Adm. Brad Collins, commander, Navy Region Europe, Africa, Central (EURAFCENT), renders honors during a Memorial Day commemoration ceremony to honor the Allied troops that died in the Battle of Saint Quentin Canal at the Somme American Cemetery in Bony, France, May 28, 2023 Photo credit U.S. Navy/MC2 Haydn N. Smith

BONY, France – Somme American Cemetery held a Memorial Day ceremony honoring fallen service members, especially those killed on the hallowed WWI front lines upon which the cemetery rests, May 28.

Rear Adm. Brad Collins, Commander, Navy Region Europe, Africa, Central (EURAFCENT), served as the senior military representative, paying tribute to the fallen and missing in action (MIA) service members.

As a gentle breeze rippled through the trees, waving U.S. and Allied flags, Collins laid a wreath to honor the 333 MIA and 1,844 Americans buried in the gentle rolling hills of the peaceful French countryside which were once suffocated in the fog of war, and saw the bloodshed of over 1 million killed and wounded men.

“Today we remember the terrible cost of war, the values that are worth fighting for, and the men who were willing to stand and fight at all costs,” said Collins. “It is jarring to comprehend the juxtaposition between the chaos of warfare and the tranquility surrounding us now. But I am glad that this place, with such a bloody past, has become such a peaceful place for those who are honored here, laid to rest among their brothers in arms.”

Between 1916 and 1918 Somme hosted trench warfare in its most horrifying form. Chlorine gas, disease, and endless deadly charges into the machine gun fire of no man’s land to move the front line mere inches became the new normal for an entire generation of men. One of the deadliest battles in all of human history, more so than even Normandy or the Battle of the Bulge, was fought for 6 blood-saturated miles of German-held territory at the Somme.

In 1918, after the arrival of American troops at a rate of five thousand a day, the Allies launched a counter-offensive at the Somme. British, French, Belgian, and American troops fought together, reversing the German advance. This Allied 100-Day Offensive ultimately led to the end of World War I.

Given time, it is all too easy to forget the brutality once visited on these now verdant fields. It is easy to unlearn the lesson learned in blood and take for granted the comfort of peace that came at such an unspeakable cost.

“On this day, Memorial Day, we are joined in solidarity for the fallen heroes who stood with our allies, sacrificing their lives, with conviction and full devotion, for our common ideals,” said Collins. “I am here today to say we do not forget. We remember your sacrifice, and we carry on lives dedicated to freedom and liberty.”

The Somme American Cemetery is preserved by the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC). Established by Congress March 4, 1923, ABMC celebrates a century of kept promises. Their mission and oath remains to honor the sacrifice of more than 200,000 U.S. service members who paid the ultimate price overseas, and ensure their memories do not fade.

Featured Image Photo Credit: U.S. Navy/MC2 Haydn N. Smith