For me, the highlight of the tour was our visit to the Meuse Argonne American Cemetery. It turns out that one of our group came on the tour expressly to honor her grandfather who is buried at the Cemetery. The photo shows her honoring Private Lambert.
Today, we are delighted to share this wonderful photo essay from guest Mike Salemi, who joined us on our
WWI: War to End All Wars Tour. His photos and observations capture the memorable and poignant moments of this historical tour, evoking the emotions you experience as you travel from the site of the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium to the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery at Romagnes, France. We would like to thank Mike for taking the time to share these with all of us.
The Crusader Cross is everywhere. Initially, it seems this proud and triumphant symbol of French valor. But as the tour goes on and the body count rises, the irony of the cross grows ever more apparent. I have always liked poppies and particularly revered the hedge row poppies that I associate with Flanders. Of course, poppies are still the mourning flower in Flanders. I was surprised and moved by the interpretation of poppies on display at a German cemetery. Today, far more than poppies grow in Flanders’s fields. Indeed, Chris Anderson showed an amazing ability to walk the margins of pretty much any farm field and come away with shrapnel and other relics of the war. That legacy is echoed by the statue at the Peace Park which shows a farmer gleaning the grim remains of the War. I had long ago learned about the Christmas Truce. I imagine the British and German soldiers found it hopeful that they could impose peace for however short a time. In the fact that visitors to the Christmas Peace Memorial bring footballs in honor of the game that “broke out” during the truce, I take hope that some intend to keep that spirit alive. At Notre Dame de Lorette is found a series of plaques inscribing the names of the allied war dead. I observed an insect on one of the plaques and thought it a suitable representation of death. The central monument at the Vimy Canadian Memorial is heart breaking beautiful. It calls the visitor from afar to come closer and observe what the Canadians have to say about their sacrifice. The hooded woman is sadness itself. One of the traditions that honor the fallen is the sanding of their cross. The photo shows one of our group, who served in the Marine Corps, sanding the cross of a U.S. Marine who gave his life in World War I. The French are rightly proud that the Germans did not overtake Verdun and pass onto Paris. The inscription translated is “They Have Not Passed.” The figure screams “But at What Cost?” World War I battlefields are often a mix of the very old and the somewhat new. This is in part because villages, castles, and ancient fortifications were built on high, easy-to-defend ground. The juxtaposition of the old church wall with the WWI monument tower displays this mix in a beautiful way. For me, the highlight of the tour was our visit to the Meuse Argonne American Cemetery. It turns out that one of our group came on the tour expressly to honor her grandfather who is buried at the Cemetery. The photo shows her honoring Private Lambert. I have always found cemeteries to be sources of moving photographs. The stones are sentinels that capture the light in interesting and beautiful ways. Many of my photographs from the tour show the “crosses row on row….” But the way that the crosses at Meuse Argonne reach the horizon brings tears to my eyes. The last stop on our tour was Compiegne where the armistice was signed. It is an impressive place especially since the Germans destroyed it during World War II. The famous train car on display is actually a sibling of the real car which Hitler ordered sent back to Berlin as a trophy.
Tucked away near the entrance to Compiegne is a newer monument. It is only when I grew closer that I saw what it depicted. In my mind, a fallen eagle is an apt remembrance.