In remembrance of the lives lost during World War I, dozens of French, American, Dutch and German volunteers arrived hours before nightfall to place candles at 3,500 headstones in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial, Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, France, Nov. 11, 2017 – known as Remembrance Day in France.
In the rain, volunteers lit candles in two sections of the cemetery in preparation for a full luminary in September 2018 to mark the centennial of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in World War I.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come and help light the candles for these soldiers in remembrance, because they are not forgotten; we are still honoring and remembering them,” said U.S. Air Force Reserve Maj. Holly Cookson, the executive officer for Headquarters U.S. European Command’s Interagency Partnering Directorate. “Being here is scared. You know, we go off when our country asks us to, and we all wear our flags, whether it be on our arms or flown inside the hangars of our plane and we hope that we can make it home. And these people didn’t, so we come here to remember and honor them.”
With more than 14,000 thousand Americans buried at Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, it is the largest final resting place for fallen U.S. service members in Europe. Overall, 26,000 Americans died in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive – and most of them are buried in the cemetery.
“It is hard to describe, it was such an emotional sight. I was working with a team with some of the Dutch, German and French and was told how a local townsman had wanted to put this event together. The scale of this multinational event was moving,” Cookson said.
Involving 1.2 million American Soldiers, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive is the largest offensive in U.S. military history as well as the bloodiest battle of World War I for the American Expeditionary Force. Beginning on Sept. 26, 1918, the offensive lasted 47 days and was part of the Hundred Days Offensive that ended the war on Nov. 11, 1918, with the Armistice of Compiegne.
“It is important to remember, not just for the 99th or 100th anniversary, but always honor the sacrifices these Americans made in Europe; I am proud to be the third generation of my family to have served in the U.S. Army. My grandfather during World War I and my father during the Second World War, and then myself in the eighties during much easier conditions,” said Carl Siebentritt, an American volunteer from the Stuttgart military community in Germany.
After the return of veterans from World War I, the stories that returned with them from their war experiences echo still in the families they came back to.
“Part of the reason I am here is because my grandfather, Carl Siebentritt, fought in this region with the units represented here; he survived the war, although injured from a gas attack. Being here honors his memory as well as the memory of his comrades and fellow soldiers who did not make it back and are buried here,” Siebentritt said. “What is also interesting about this place for me is that my grandfather, being a first-generation German immigrant with his very German last name, was fighting against his cousins on these frontlines so it was very literally brother against brother for many Americans in this fight.”
Overall, the luminary, followed by the reading of a selection of names of service members interred at the cemetery, is a reminder of those who served almost a century ago , establishing a legacy that stretches into the modern era.
“It was important for our two sons to associate the names of the soldiers who fell with each of the candles we placed on tombstones, to identify real people who suffered, fought and died for their country,” said Siebentritt. “Next year is the anniversary of the end of World War I and I would encourage Americans who are here in Europe to take an interest in and attend the events that will be going on for the centennial. My family and I will be.”