We stood on the edge of the green grass that day and looked out over the white crosses. My mind imagined the faces of young men who never went home. Boys really, many of them, who went to a foreign land, not for sight-seeing, but to fight for freedom and many other reasons, I am sure.
In American history, over one million have died in combat environments both on American and foreign soil. From the land of a country yet to be born to the rice paddies of Vietnam, frozen mountains of Korea, deserts of Saudi Arabia, mountains of Afghanistan, and many other places in between, they laid down their lives. Living in Europe, we have been to multiple American cemeteries, all humbling and sobering as we remembered the cost of freedom.
But this day was different.
Five thousand seventy-six men were buried under the white headstones on which we gazed in Luxembourg American Cemetery that day. 5,076 men.
And one woman.
In most American cemeteries on this side of the pond, we find very few women. This was in most part due to the relatively small number of women serving on foreign soil. If you’re like me though, I sure wondered about this one.
Her name was Nancy Leo. She was an Army nurse in World War II. The 24-year-old 2nd Lieutenant from Maryland was on her way to visit her sister, also an Army nurse, stationed in Paris. It was 1945 and France had been liberated from the Nazis. The country was still celebrating when Nancy rode to Paris that day. The vehicle in which she was riding was in an accident and she was killed. She never made it to her sister.
The story of her sister waiting for her and instead getting a phone call that she would not be there is devasting. She was initially buried in Paris, but her family gave permission to have her moved to the American Cemetery here.
Nancy, like many other women since the Revolutionary War, have sacrificed for our country, some at the cost of their lives. She was a minority in that combat environment much like she is in the cemetery in which she lays, but she is no less important than the other 5000. Young, professional, and capable, she was much like the women wearing uniforms today. While the men buried around her were fighting for liberation, it was said that she was fighting to save their lives.
I have read of a few other women buried in these American cemeteries abroad. Four of them buried at Colleville-sur-Mer in France (the cemetery at Omaha Beach). Elizabeth Richards was killed in a plane crash in 1945. She was actually a Red Cross volunteer.
The other three were all members of the same unit. The “Six-Triple Eight” was a Women’s Army Corps (WAC) unit, a Central Postal Directory Battalion. Why is their unit important? It was the first all-female, all-African-American battalion to serve overseas. In a time when they were not respected in their homeland, these three chose to serve and fight for it anyway. Dolores Brown, Mary Barlow, and Mary Bankston were also involved in a jeep accident and died as a result. These women helped sort and deliver mail for millions of Americans serving overseas, making the lives of many a bit better. (www.patch.com)
Dedicated and focused, their roles and sacrifice in the service of their country are no less significant than their male counterparts. This is not a “boys vs. girls.” This is simply a chance to remember on this Memorial Day the names of these women who sacrificed, telling their stories again. BRAVE women who have willingly given their lives in service to us and our country.
Nancy, Elizabeth, Dolores, Mary, and Mary served.
As of 2017, three hundred eighty-three women have died while serving in Operation Enduring Freedom and one hundred ten in Operation Iraqi Freedom. They came from four of the services (Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force), from all walks of life and all parts of the country. They were officers and enlisted personnel and represented many ethnicities. They were women who proudly served and did so with professionalism and bravery.
I knew some of them. No doubt you did too.
This Memorial Day I pray that we will not only remember them, but that we will take their stories and challenge ourselves to be BRAVE in the things God calls us to as well. Whether in a uniform or civilian attire, on foreign soil or our home turf, I pray that we will boldly step out into the things God has called us to and in turn make a difference in the lives and possibly the eternities of those we meet. That our legacy would be one of Jesus, because we have been faithful.
Do you know amazing women who have sacrificed their lives in service to our country? How does their memory impact you today?
1. https://www.abmc.gov/cemeteries-memorials#.Wun5-ZeYM2w -American Battlefield Monuments Commission