As a son of a Lutheran pastor in Finland I have passed through my early years in close relationship with a graveyard. That was the place, where my father constantly came back to conduct his service and the church was located always in the middle of the graveyard. For some years we lived even in a parsonage as the next neighbor of the cemetery. So I was closely watching the events on the graveyard.
There was a section of the cemetery drawing particularly my attention. That was the area of soldier graves, or as we put it in Finland “heroes` graves”. When around ten years passed since the end of the war the relatives frequently visited the graves, they passionately took care of. So I explored the atmosphere of deep grief and reverence around the graves.
My attraction for cemeteries might be arisen from these early experiences. In my opinion a visitor encounters a crucial piece of the local history and culture in a graveyard. The most impressive part of the visit in the American Cemetery for me was only to see the huge number of the white marble crosses on the wide green lawns. That is a silencing view. The information brochure tells that there are 17.097 headstones. Almost 4000 from the fallen soldiers are unknown or “known but to God” as is put on the headstones. Further on there are engraved tablets honoring 36.286 soldiers “Missing in action”.
I was walking around the Cemetery meditating the pain and sorrow caused by the deaths of often very young men, a life in front of them. I was thinking the families told the message of death or disappearance. How are the loved ones been capable to cope with the loss and how are these losses radiating today`s life?
I realize I saw in Manila American Cemetery only a little piece of the losses in World War II. The Russians celebrated the Day of Victory in Moscow yesterday. However 26 million Russians were killed during the last war and the volunteers are still looking for the remains of the thousands of soldiers from the battle fields. In the celebrations the memory is often very short and selective and the victims on the other side of the frontier will be forgotten. There were on the other side a lot of young men lost their lives too.
There is in the American Cemetery a book for the comments from the visitors. I saw a comment like “humbling experience”. Subscribe to that, my comment was: "Never war, ever”.