Memorial Day is the only day set aside each year to honor and remember America’s war casualties. Some of the most compelling rites are held in our cemeteries overseas, where locals will flock to commemorate the young Americans who helped liberate their homelands.
Those on the other side of the International Date Line will be the first to hold Memorial Day ceremonies. I think of Dale Wilson, whose name is chiseled on the Wall of Remembrance at the Manila American Cemetery, along with the five others who were with him, when their B-25 crashed on a mission. They have never been found.
Dale was the first of my grandparents’ three sons who were lost during World War II.
I think of the observances held hours later in eastern France, where another of Clabe and Leora Wilson’s sons is buried–in Lorraine American Cemetery, in Plot D, Row 5, Grave 7.
His is only one of more than 10,000 graves of Americans who lost their lives in the European Theater of War.
Four years ago, I logged onto my computer to find a photo of Danny Wilson’s cross, along with his photo and flowers. Mathieu Carre, a Frenchman and World War II reenactor with a real heart for these young Americans, had posted it on Facebook. He was as glad to contact the family of one of the boys buried far from home as I was heartened by his kind gesture. That December, Ivan Steenkiste from Belgium joined Mathieu for a photo at Dan Wilson’s grave. What a blessing to find it early one morning. Mr. Steenkiste is active in making sure the memories of the Battle of the Bulge are kept alive on Chaumont Ardennes Belgium Facebook page. Lorraine Cemetery is filled with American casualties of that terrible time.
Gaston Adier, the mayor of Carling, France, regularly takes schoolchildren to Danny Wilson’s grave, to tell his story, to remember his service and sacrifice. He also tells them about Dan Wilson’s family in America, who are glad that French schoolchildren know about the young Iowa farmer who became a P-38 pilot.
One early morning during Memorial Day weekend, I won’t be surprised if a photo from France is waiting, reminding me that the Americans who pledged their lives to help liberate Europe from tyranny aren’t forgotten.
That Danny Wilson from Dallas County, Iowa, is not forgotten.
Hours later, as our Earth spins in space, rites will be held in Violet Hill Cemetery in Perry. Legionnaires will remember another brother, Junior Wilson, who was killed in Texas when the engine of his fighter plane exploded in formation training
They will also pay tribute to Dale and Daniel Wilson, whose cenotaph sits just north of their brother’s in Violet Hill Cemetery. Each Memorial Day Legionnaires mark the graves with small American flags, and red paper poppies with sprigs of evergreen.
The red poppy has been a symbol of war losses since Dr. John McCrae wrote the poignant poem “In Flanders Field” during the First World War. Crepe paper poppies are offered for donations for wounded veterans. For decades, Leora Wilson, with her compelling connection to the victims of war, was a favorite poppy lady in Guthrie Center, Iowa.
Memorial Day is set aside once a year to reflect on and honor our war casualties. Take your children to a ceremony in your local cemetery, explaining to them why it matters. Visit a Freedom Rock and talk about why those depicted are honored. Give a donation for a red paper poppy–for remembrance.
Memorial Day observances will be held in twenty-six American military cemeteries around the globe, with nearly 125,000 graves, including that of young Iowan Daniel Wilson. Those cemeteries also display panels with names memorialized of more than 94,000 still missing in action, lost, or buried at sea, including Dan’s brother Dale.
We here at home must not forget their service and sacrifice.
Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II remembers the story of the Wilson family. Autographed copies are available by mail from independent Beaverdale Books in Des Moines: (515) 279-5400