Veterans Day is here. In our family, it is the kickoff to our holiday season. The holiday seems iconically American. However, Veterans Day started off 102 years ago as Armistice Day which marked the end of WWI and as the world started healing from The Great War, each nation involved created there own version of remembering. This makes the concept quite Global rather than quintessentially American and a great way to expand our horizons both patriotically and historically. Our own holiday evolved from commemorating 11-11-18 to honoring all who serve and have served. But make no mistake, there are plenty of countries that honor those who serve in their own way. I am lucky and grateful for the Veterans in my family. My dad, my husband, and a bevy of other relatives all served at one time or another. I even spent some time in uniform myself.
Finding our Ancestors for Veteran’s Day
One way other countries honor the military sacrifice is to remember the fallen. A great example of this is what you can find in France. This summer, I had the honor of meeting two veterans while I visited and the experience was life changing. My mom and I hopped into a sporty euro rental in Belgium and made our way west across the French border to an area out in the middle of nulle part- that’s French for nowhere. We were stopping to visit Private First Class Thomas McGovern. His address is one I can share: plot B, Row 18, Grave 11, Somme American Cemetery, Bony, France.
Thomas is my great, great uncle and died in the famous Battle of the Somme on September 27th, 1918. Visiting the cemetery is quite amazing. The superintendent escorted us out to the grave, among impeccably manicured grounds and explained to us the play by play of the battle and exactly what fate my uncle met. He produced a small container of sand from Omaha Beach to rub across the marble stone so that Thomas’ name was easily read. There, in the summer sun out in the French countryside, I became the first family member to come and pay my respects to him. I was all at once proud, connected, elated and humbled. It was a once in a lifetime experience!
As our journey continued, I had someone else to check in with. The next day, we drove out to the Meuse-Argon American Cemetery to meet, for the first time as well, John McGovern. He is Thomas’ brother and, by heart breaking coincidence, he also perished on September 27th- just 46 days shy of the armistice. The cemetery that he rests in is shared with 14,000 other brave boys who put on a tin hat and stepped up to fight in an unknown world. Again, the sand, again two flags of pride and solidarity, again emotions that make one grateful and awestruck.
So on this Veterans Day, I say thank you to all of you who have served. I appreciate you all. And I encourage you put on a bright red poppy and be proud of all you have contributed to the greater good.
Maybe seek out those veterans who may not be as close as most. They may be just the thing for you and yours to learn so much about your own family and how they contributed to the greater good. There are 26 American Cemeteries overseas with over 130,000 brave Americans who are hoping a family member might visit. If you are interested, start your research with the American Battle Monuments Commission.