The Cambridge American Cemetery - Cambridge, UK
The clouds hung low and slid across the sky like buttered cotton across hot glass. The wind blew as if it had something to say and occasionally lashed a few raindrops at us when we couldn't understand. Through it all the American flag snapped to attention in the wind again and again, as the thousands of boys and men who spread across the field beneath it swallowed our hearts into shocked silence. This memorial is more then just a memorial. It goes beyond being a graveyard. The white rows, the wall of names which we can never forget, the chapel memorial and even the reflecting pool all combine to powerfully move the person brave enough the face the reality contained on this piece of America on foreign soil.
The Cambridge American Cemetery does not stand on British land. The University of Cambridge donated this land, creating a patch of America in England to hold those American soldiers who died on English soil. This act, which allowed the creation of the memorial, must be understood for the full effect of the memorial. England is not oblivious to the great sacrifice made by America's armed forces for the English. The gift of land for an island nation is not something to be taken lightly. Truly this land gives our two nations blood ties deeper then any through marriage or birth, for it now contains the final resting place for many American soldiers. The land is not just a final resting place, though. It is a carefully designed memorial to those who gave their lives.
Many of the soldiers who now rest in the Cambridge American Cemetery were brought from a number of different temporary graves, and careful and reverent thought was given to their re-inturment. So precious are these soldiers that architects, landscape artists and artists combined efforts to create an aesthetic layout that conveys a sense of great loss as well as remembrance. Upon entrance of the cemetery the first view is of the American flag, appropriately. Standing at the top of the hill, the flag conveys a sense of triumph in that these men succeeded through their deaths in liberating England and Europe, allowing Americans to even be in England today. This symbol on the high-reaching pole seems to stand guard over the rows of grave-markers radiating from its base.
The grave-markers ripple from the flagpole's base far across the face of the hill. The perfect lines and rows they form trick your mind into seeing them march much farther then they really do. Yet this effect must be intentional. Even if only one lone grave-marker stood in this field it should be situated to suggest many more because the loss of life in war, even one life, is always too much. All of the grave-markers are pristine white and shaped as either Stars of David for Jewish soldiers or Latin crosses for the others. This repetitive imagery suggests that all who remain in the cemetery gave equally everything they could to the war - their lives. Now under our remembrance none have stones rising above the rest. Some, though, do not have their names inscribed on grave-markers above their final resting place. Some names share the space of a wall but are no less honored.
This wall runs along the northern side of the cemetery, nearest the road. From the road it appears to be merely a barrier between life and the memorial. The view from among the graves reveals that the wall is inscribed with thousands of names, though. The names are not carved in large script and entirely cover the face of the wall inside the cemetery. Each name is all that is left of a soldier whose body was unable to rest in the cemetery. These soldiers were Missing in Action, lost or buried at sea or not positively identified. At four points along the wall, the lists are broken by statues from the divisions of the armed forces: a soldier, an airman, a sailor and a Coast Guardsman. As you read the names and where each man served, the statues remind you powerfully that once these men, really mostly boys, once stood alive on this ground only to find death. Therefore it is logical that at the end of the wall, across from the American flag, stands the memorial chapel.
The memorial chapel is not a typical chapel. It contains two maps of the course of the war, one on the outside of the building depicting the positions of American troops throughout England and a second inside the building displays operations of troops during the war. It provides a pictorial realization of how extensive the war was, and how decisive American involvement was. Furthermore it commemorates the actions of those who survived and all the others who participated in the actions of the war by displaying the astounding breathe the battles took. From outside the memorial chapel the cemetery can be reconsidered as a whole and the final and full effect of the memorial strikes a viewer full-force.
Fresh from the views of the maps, the awareness of the scale of the war is unavoidable. Again sprawling in front of you are the rows upon rows of the dead, mostly boys, robbed of their lives because someone wanted to rule the world. To the side lay all the names of those whose bodies are forever lost, but whose memories will forever remain. It is not possible to stand here without tears. One is drawn out into the fields of grave-markers, still with wet cheeks. The simple names, ranks and states relentlessly draw your eyes until you recognize the state you are from. That is a personal shock. Someone from your home state died in a war. More shocking yet is when a name is recognized; maybe not a family name, but a friend's family name or a more distant relative's. The amount of lives lost, altered and touched by this war is so frightening at this moment that anger over the loss washes through. The walk back to the American flag and then to the safety of the outside is a long, long walk.