The day began with a short trip to the site of the Dornot-Corny battle. However, before we even arrived, we drove through Jouy-aux-Arches.This is a small village in the country-side of Lorraine that has sixteen surviving arches of a Roman aqueduct, the same Roman aqueduct that supplied running water to Metz, France over 1700 years ago. This was a small excursion that allowed us to all stretch our legs for a moment and enjoy the picturesque views before we headed to Dornot-Corny battle site.
When we arrived, we quickly headed down a small path. The path followed the Moselle river, and many people were running or walking their dogs that morning. After a few hundred yards, a sign introducted the Dornot-Corny historical walk. This walk commemorates the United States’s attempt to cross the Moselle river. The US divisions lost 945 men in sixty hours at Dornot-Corny. It is made up of signs that explain the events leading up to 8 September 1944 and their tactical significance. The signs feature first hand accounts from veterans of the battle. These attempt to give you an idea of the horrible conditions the men endured and how poorly the battle was planned. The last sign on the walk features Jack Kirby’s account of the battle. Jack Kirby is the creator of Captain America and several other Marvel and DC characters. He landed at Normandy on D-Day, 73 years before we visited this site, and was present at this battle. He explains how he clung to a poorly constructed boat to cross the river as German’s fired on the troops from the other bank. This site was a powerful reminder of not just the successes of World War II, but also the failures that claimed so many lives.
Since it was D-Day, the entire day was centered around commemorating those who lost their lives in World War II and the veterans who fought against fascist regimes. After Dornot, we headed to the Lorraine American Cemetery at Saint Avold, which is the largest American World War II cemetery in Europe. The cemetery is the final resting place of 10,489 American soldiers who died during the fall of 1944 during the allied campaign against the Germans in Northern France, and the site of the memorial to those who lost their lives in WWII.
Our guide, who met us outside of the memorial, quickly identified three graves that stood out to her. The first grave we visitied was the grave of Rueben Rivers, a medal of honor
recipient who died on November 19, 1944. He died after he was wounded and refused to be evacuated so that he could stay and fight. His sacrifice saved hundreds of American soldier’s lives, however, he was not rewarded for this bravery until the 1990s. He was an African American soldier, which was the reason for the delay. At the Lorraine American Cemetery, soldiers are not segregated, despite the segregation of the US Army at that time. The guide reminded us that, at that time, no matter how these soldiers defined themselves-white or black, young or old, Christian or Jewish-they were all equal in death.
The next grave was a grave of an unknown soldier, where the guide explained that not onlydid these men sacrifice their lives, they also sacrificed their identities. At Saint Avold, 151 unknown soldiers are buried, and the memorial wall has the names of 444 missing soldiers. After our visit to the three graves, we all had a chance to walk along the memorial wall and see the names of those whose bodies couldn’t be identified, even after all this time.
The last grave was a soldier who died on December 11, 1944. What was special about him was that the cemetery had his last letter that he wrote to his father. This letter explains how all the soldiers miss home, and what they miss about it. It was incredibly moving as he expresses his desire to live for the simple things in live. He expresses his desire to grow up and grow old, to see his children and grandchildren, and to hug his mother. He explains these are desires all the soldiers have, and how he just wants to live. The letter was written on November 20, 1944. His father didn’t receive it before he received news that his son was dead.
After this, we had free time which I used to visit the memorial. The memorial has a martyred Roman soldier carved over the entrance, and when you enter, there are giant statues of military heroes all looking up at a central figure surrounded by stars. On one wall, a description of the military campaigns is carved into the wall, and on the other, there is a map of the Allied advances following the landing at Normandy on June 6, 1944.
Left to Right: King David, Emperor Constantine, King Arthur, George Washington.
These two visits were incredibly moving and reminded us all of the sacrifices that were made for freedom. Being at these places on D-Day though, helped us to remember how costly that sacrifices was. While it was sad, these visits helped us grasp the significance of WWII and the campaigns around the Moselle.