A memorial to courage, A MEMORABLE PLACEIt was a mild...


August 09, 1998

A memorial to courage, A MEMORABLE PLACE

It was a mild summer day in Paris. It was August, and hardly anything happens in Paris in August. It's a good time to see museums in relative peace and quiet, and to see the city with most of its otherwise busy inhabitants off on vacation. We had nothing planned, and then someone suggested a visit to Belleau Wood. The name was familiar. It was the site at which U.S. troops stopped the German advance in 1918, and it's now a memorial to those same men. We decided to go, taking a commercial tour bus.

As we approached the memorial, we drove through dense woods in which remnants of that long-ago battle still lingered. Hulks of old vehicles and armament have been left in place as a reminder of what happened there, and a sense of being back in that time and in that war made itself felt.

What I was not prepared for was the memorial itself. It is a stark, white building, backed by a hill and surrounded by uncountable numbers of tombstones neatly arranged in rows and columns, reminiscent of the soldiers who lie beneath them. They are simple stones, plain white, with minimal inscription, and all identical except that each is topped with either a cross or a star of David. They appear to continue without end in both directions from the monument, the rows disappearing as they circle the central hill. The place is silent, and the sense of so many lost souls is overwhelming.

In my own military service, I was spared the necessity of actual combat, but here, for the first time, I became acutely aware of what it means to send young men into battle. Even more, I came to understand the gratitude of the French people in preserving and maintaining that site. It has been renamed in honor of the Army brigade that fought there, but to its survivors I am sure it always was Belleau Wood.

As a rule, one does not go on vacations to be reminded of war and death, and we had not, either. But that day and that place left an image in my mind that I cannot shake. I think it should be a destination for every American tourist who visits the area. It is an opportunity to take a break from the hustle of a vacation period and enrich the inner soul with a few moments of quiet meditation on life and destiny. Whenever I read of new outbreaks of war somewhere in the world, I think of that place and wonder if we will ever learn from our history.

Allen Perlin lives in Lutherville.

Timothy C. Winn, Baltimore

"The people here express their faith in ways that were foreign to me. One man was hanging by wire and hooks that pierced his flesh. Below him children and adults carried flower displays upon their shoulders as they danced to the heavy rhythm of beating drums. Nearby, ornate temples housed statues of Krishna, Kali and Ganesh."

Ike and Erika Levine, Reisterstown

"We recently returned from Australia and Papua New Guinea where we filmed the Great White sharks and natives with painted faces, respec-tively. Here are our travel tips: Carry all film onto the plane; make sure it is hand-checked through security; carry on medicines, in prescription bottles, and put the bottles in plastic bags, which can be used later as camera rain gear."

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