The Cambridge American Cemetary and Memorial

08Dec06

Nestled about three miles West of Cambridge is a small American Cemetary dedicated to Americans who died in the Battle of the Atlantic or during the air bombardment of Northwest Europe.

From the American Battle Monuments Commission
Image from the AMBC.

I went to go visit this morning, perhaps idly looking for perspective on my own position as an American studying in the UK.

The space (donated by the university) is very pretty. There is a plaque commemorating airmen who died avoiding Cambridgeshire homes as their planes crashed. A wall of missing servicemen, pictured above, connects a chapel to an American flag. The chapel includes a small space for prayer and reflection as well as a large map/sculpture displaying the major supply/attack routes used by the US and UK leading up to Normandy. Photos are available in a booklet put out by the ABMC, but they don’t do justice to the experience of actually standing there before the monument.

It’s a bit off the peak tourist season, so there there was some minor upkeep going on. There were some people meticulously repairing bits of the wall. Someone came into the chapel while I was there to dust and tidy up a bit.

More than the monument itself and even more than how well kept it is, I was taken aback by the fact that it was well kept. This, as well, is not in itself a surprising fact as it is only due respect for the departed. However, I thought it warming that over 60 years after the end of the War in Europe there are people who come in every day to tend to the physical memory of those Americans who gave their lives. That, I think, is the real monument. (The consistent, tireless manifestation is, I think, an especially appropriate British monument.)

(I suspect that the cemetary’s upkeep is supported by the US government, but those that actually are here tending to it are Britons.)

I wish there were something poignant I could contribute to the visit, though perhaps there isn’t much to say. The US and the UK are again fighting in a war, but this is further away from each country in more ways than geography. People are dying who are the same age as those servicemen buried at the memorial. These are people who are the same age as me.

And so here I am, a guest of a country that houses monuments such as these and with citizens who, day in and day out, tend to those monuments, raising and lower ingthe US flag in commemoration of sacrifices many decades ago. The fellowship under which I’m enabled to study in the UK is another manifestation of a country’s gratitude for the good deeds of another after that war (the Marshall Plan). In this respect it was perhaps appropriate that I visited the cemetary.

They could have raised a statue or built a monument for George Marshall in London. Instead, they decided to establish a fund that would allow generations of American postgraduates to study in the UK. The scholarship programme is, in one light, a ‘thank you’ for the Marshall Plan. However, for the individual scholars it is not a prize but rather an investment for the future of the ‘enduring relationship between the British and American peoples.’

And so there I was, an American student who has found himself in a war memorial in Cambridge rather than in a war in Iraq. And I wondered: how am I going to live up to that?



4 Responses to “The Cambridge American Cemetary and Memorial”

  1. Yes, the American Battle Monuments Commission, a small US federal agency, maintains this cemetery and 23 others overseas. The one within sight of the Eiffel Tower is a treasure, but no one ever visits it, and it’s not in any guidebooks. Details about this site in Suresnes are at http://www.abmc.gov

  2. The American Battle Monuments Commission maintains this site and 23 other overseas military cemeteries, including the one in Paris (Suresnes) that no one visits. Pls see http://www.ambc.gov

  3. 3 Bill Davis

    As a 73 year old originally from London, it was my first visit a few days ago. I was 4 years and 46 days old when war was declared on 3rd Sep 1939. I keep thinking, and sometimes saying, I wish the Americans would stop fighting other peoples wars and sacrificing their generations of young people. The problem with that is, it’s the American way to help others regardless of the cost to themselves.
    I know it was not a popular decision by the American Government to get involved and that is totally understandable. I, for one, am grateful to the extreme that these good people were not to get their way. I do not have any idea where we would be today if the USA had not joined the conflict. Hitler may have come out on top, I don’t think we had the resorces to overcome Germany. The Russians may have done the job and that does not bear thinking about either!
    Reading the names on the crosses and the wall did bring a lump to my throat to think of all those families getting that dreaded communication. Then came the thought that this was only a fraction of the total. I know that there are places similar to this dedicated to British service men and women, but I do think that is much different. These young men and women came from a wonderful and safe country to put themselves in harms way.
    On leaving, an elderly lady, older than me, asked ‘Was it nice in there?’ I said ‘nice’ was not a word I would have used. It is a place to remember and be very, very thankful.

  4. 4 Bill Davis

    To the young student at the begining of this article. You ask how you live up to the young people in the cemetary. The only thing I can say is, LIVE. I do not mean, don’t fight. Just make sure it is for the right reasons. The people of this country, and many others, could never compensate for the death of any one American.
    There was a comment from an American, General, I believe, that ‘Britain would fight to the last American.’ At the very least, unkind. At worst, an insult. I just wonder how many Purple Hearts he got! We have lost a few of our people over the years but do not blame our friends. There have been a number of errors over the years by all sides. I say, best leave them where they fell.



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