On our way home from Reims, we planned to visit two World War I sites run by the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC). 

Our first stop was the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial.  The Meuse-Argonne Offensive of World War I lasted 47 days and resulted in 117,000 U.S. troops being killed or wounded.  Up until that time, it was the largest battle ever fought by U.S. troops. Over 1,000,000 of them fought here and over 14,000 of them are buried in this cemetery.  Thisis the largest American cemetery in Europe.  We started our walk around the grounds at the chapel.  Over the door, these words are inscribed: “DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF THOSE WHO DIED FOR THEIR COUNTRY”. 

Inside the chapel are stained glass windows that show the insignia of various American military divisions and units. This is one of the windows.

On the outside walls of the chapel, 954 names are inscribed.  These are the names of those who died in the area but whose remains were never recovered or identified. In this photo you can see two different symbols to the left of two of the names.  These indicate different medals that were awarded posthumously.

Looking out over some of the headstones. 

We were very surprised to see a few headstones that had “Infant” engraved on them.  We stopped at the visitor center on our way out of the cemetery and asked about this.  We were told that 3 infants were buried here before the ABMC was granted the use of the area.  They left the infants buried there and gave them a headstone to match the others.

This is the headstone of Marion Crandall, the first American woman killed during World War I in active service.  You can see she was serving with the YMCA, and she was killed when the hostel where she was working was hit by German artillery.

Here is the headstone of Frank Luke, a pilot.  The gold lettering on the headstone indicates that he is a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient.  He survived his plane being shot down but refused to surrender and was killed by German infantrymen. Luke Air Force Base in Arizona is named after him.

This headstone is for Edward Grant.  He was one of three former major league baseball players killed during World War I and was killed by German shell fire.

Here you can see the visitor center in the background with the circular pool in the foreground.  The pool has a fountain (not working during our visit) and contains goldfish and flowering lilies.

Victor Chapman’s headstone shows that belonged to the Escadrille de Lafayette. This group was part of the French Air Service during World War I and was made up largely of pilots who were American volunteers. The gentleman at the visitor center told us that these volunteers usually came from wealthy families. Victor Chapman was the Escadrille’s first fatality when he was shot down.  He is the only member of the Escadrille buried at this cemetery.

Sean just happened to find this headstone for Patrick Gilligan.  Gilligan is my maiden name. As far as I know there’s no relation but you never know.
One of the two entrances to the cemetery.

France has a lot of fairly expensive toll roads so on the way back home we decided to give the back roads a try to avoid the tolls.  Not only did it turn out to be a nicer, more scenic drive but it didn’t really add any time onto the trip.  Driving on one of these little back roads after leaving the cemetery, we saw this monument pretty much in the middle of nowhere.  It was placed there by the state of Pennsylvania, where Sean is from, to honor their residents who fought in the area during World War I.

Directly across the street from the Pennsylvania memorial was a French World War I memorial.

We continued on to our next destination, the Montfaucon Monument.  This monument is also maintained by the ABMC, and their brochure says it “commemorates the victory of the U.S. First Army in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive and honors the earlier services of the French forces on that battlefront.”  The monument is 200 feet tall and its construction was completed in 1933.  If you climb up the 234 steps inside the monument, which we did, you can go out onto a viewing platform and see most of the Meuse-Argonne battlefield.

Just before reaching the viewing platform, I stopped to take a photo of the circular staircase I’d just climbed.

Luckily there are benches on 11 of the 13 landings so you can take frequent breaks from climbing if you like.

Looking down from the viewing platform, the lone car you see in the parking lot is ours.  We were the only ones here which was kinda nice.

As seen from the viewing platform, the ruins of a church.  The town was completely destroyed in World War I.  After the war the town was rebuilt, but they moved it a few miles away.  This is the only thing left of the original town.

On the walls of the viewing platform are arrows pointing to various towns and cities and numbers indicating the distance in kilometers to those places.  Here you can see we’re 209 kilometers from Paris, which is about 130 miles.

Another view of the church ruins, this time from ground level.

And yet another shot of the church ruins.  I just thought it looked really nice, and it was so peaceful with nobody else around.

Next to the church and behind the monument is a cemetery.  This plot is obviously very old but the one to the left of it is fairly new, with the person having died in 1994. (I always feel very old when I think that something that’s almost 20 years old is “fairly new”.)

After leaving this  monument, we stopped at a German World War I cemetery. We’ve visited a few of these in various places and they are so different from the American cemeteries.  For starters, you can see the markers are much more somber in color.  Each marker in the German cemeteries also indicates the names of at least 2 people, whereas the American cemeteries have one marker per person.

As you can see, these 2 soldiers both died in 1917 and the name on the right indicates the soldier was a musketeer.  Sean commented that it was odd that the Germans used musketeers as late as 1917.  According to the Wikipedia article on musketeers, “The traditional designation of ‘musketeer’ for an infantry private survived in the Imperial German Army until World War I.”

The marker indicates that the soldier on the left was a “Fahrer”, which means driver or chauffeur in German.

A monument in the German cemetery.

And a final photo of the German cemetery, looking out over the markers.  Quite a different sight from the photo you saw above looking out over the headstones in the American cemetery.

That was also the last site we visited on this trip.  Visiting the war cemeteries and monuments is a good reminder to me of how lucky I am to be able to have the freedom to do things like visit the Champagne region of France and I’m always thankful for those who gave their lives for this kind of freedom.

About the author: Trish


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