While driving in the French countryside near Verdun three summers ago, I stopped at one of the many small German cemeteries that dot the landscape. I marveled at the neatly manicured graves of German soldiers killed in World War I.
Last summer, my family visited Thiepval Anglo-French Cemetery, the final resting place for more than 72,000 French and British soldiers from World War I. Realizing the Thiepval Memorial was less than a decade old when the Nazi’s occupied France, I asked a Commonwealth War Graves employee how the memorial and cemetery survived the war. She shrugged and said that the Germans respected the graves of soldiers.
While World War I gets short shrift in most U.S. history courses, more than 10 times as many soldiers died than during the U.S. Civil War. Between wounded and killed, the war nearly wiped out a generation of European males. It is remarkable that during the second horrific war to grip Europe in 30 years, the Nazi invaders and occupied French could tolerate their enemy’s war dead of the previous generation.
I am saddened that Madison cannot honor the graves of fellow Americans who died here as enemy prisoners of war more than a century and a half ago.
Rob Palmer, Oregon