May bursts with color and new growth outside our doors. It ends with Memorial Day, for many a day of picnics and parties with family and friends. However, Memorial Day is also a day to remember all those our country has lost in defending our freedom in wars.
The DAR Palatinate Chapter celebrates Memorial Day by attending ceremonies at two American Battle Monument Cemeteries (ABMC) near the German border in France. Here is a little description of each. If you are in the Palatinate area, both are well worth visiting.
The Lorraine American Cemetery
The Lorraine American Cemetery in St. Avold, France is the largest cemetery for American soldiers who died in World War II in Europe. Almost 10,500 American soldiers are buried there.
Most of the dead were killed while driving back the German forces from Metz, France toward the Siegfried Line and the Rhine River. Initially there were 16,000 American soldiers from the U.S. Seventh Army Infantry and Armored Divisions with its cavalry stationed there. St. Avold was a key communications center for the network of enemy defenses guarding the western border of the Third Reich.
This beautiful cemetery, with its headstones arranged in nine plots, extends over 113.5 acres of rolling hills and is bordered by lush woods. The memorial, which stands on a plateau west of the burial area, contains operations maps, narratives and service flags. The figure of St. Nabor, the martyred Roman soldier, overlooks the somber setting. Tablets with names of the missing (444) are located on either side of the memorial. The missing who have since been identified are marked with a rosette.
The Palatinate Chapter provides a wreath for the St. Avold Memorial Day ceremony every year. The beautiful ceremony includes music from both French and American military representatives, speeches from local French and American dignitaries, and a special fly-over by a C-130 aircraft. The ceremony closes with the firing of volleys, taps and the rising of the colors.
Cemetery Site Monument in Hochfelden, France
This cemetery memorial is located just west of Hochfelden, France. It was established in late 1944 when the American effort was advancing too fast for the US Army Grave Registration Department. The 1,093 American soldiers who were temporarily interred there were later moved in 1946 to the American Cemetery in St. Avold. Most of the soldiers were part of the 103rd Division of the 7th Army. Today all that remains in Hochfelden is the memorial to the 1,093 soldiers and the lonely grave of 20 year old Lt. John Grant Rahill.
A One-Man Cemetery in Hochfelden
The one and only grave left in Hochfelden has a unique story. It tells the story of Lt. John Rahill as well as his family’s love and respect for his military career.
Lt. John Rahill was born in Caldwell, NJ on New Year’s Day in 1924. A reputedly somewhat precocious child, John abandoned his college education at the University of Chicago and volunteered for the infantry in 1942. He completed his basic training at Camp Roberts, CA and was selected for the Officer Candidate School. He was commissioned in 1943 and joined the 10th Mountain Division in the Colorado Rockies. He transferred to the European front in 1943.
His European career started in Naples, where he was dispatched to the Anzio beachhead. Assigned to the B Company platoon of the 179th Infantry, Rahill was quickly recognized as a capable leader, especially during the advance on Rome. He went on to become a first lieutenant and executive officer of the Company.
In December of 1944, he led his men into the Alsatian village of Engwiller. But on the way to their destination they were surprised by a mortar attack that killed Lt. Rahill within minutes.
Rahill was interred with his fellow fallen soldiers in Hochfelden. When his mother learned in 1946 that the interred were to be transferred to the St. Avold Cemetery, she refused to allow his grave to be disturbed. She was convinced that it would have been his desire to remain buried where he had fallen. Mrs. Rahill’s plea was taken up by a Captain of the 45th Infantry, who helped her inform the U.S. War Department of her wish.
On June 7, 1953, her wish was granted. More than 1,000 French citizens and the U.S. Ambassador to France, Douglas Dillon, were present to unveil a memorial over Lt. Rahill’s grave site. The memorial honors all the American soldiers who lost their lives for the liberation of France. To symbolize the sacrifice, Lt. John Rahill was allowed to remain entombed at the base of the monument.
To this day, there is a ceremony honoring the American contributions the liberation of France held every year at the site in May. The Palatinate Chapter is often in attendance and participates in a wreath-laying ceremony. Local dignitaries from Hochfelden and the United States hold speeches and enjoy a lunch together afterwards.
Both events are truly inspiring and we hope you will visit one or both any time you are in the area.