75 years after Dachau opened

One of the most somber places I’ve been in my travels is Dachau. The first time I visited this place of atrocities against humanity was in the middle of winter. Although the day was sunny, the temperature was bitter cold. While reading Jaunted, I found out that March 22 marked the 75th anniversary of when Dachau opened.

This concentration camp was the first in Germany and is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Jews and others during the Holocaust. It doesn’t look like it did back in 1938. The barracks are gone, although, there are cement slabs to show where they were. Many other buildings are intact, including the gas chambers and crematorium.

I went back a few summers later when I was traveling with another friend of mine who wanted to go there. I don’t think I sat through the movie a second time. Like the first time, the day was sunny. Even though the temperature was several degrees higher, I remember the cold of the first time, and how strange it was to go looking for a place to eat in Munich after wards.

The Punchbowl: Another cemetery of note

Martha’s post on cemeteries got me thinking–particularly since a few days before I wrote a post that included one of the cemeteries that made her list. While Arlington National Cemetery is a splashy, must-see cemetery on the east coast, across the Pacific Ocean in Honolulu is another national cemetery that offers a glimpse at major happenings in the world ‘s history.

The National Memorial Cemetery for the Pacific, more commonly known as The Punchbowl, is a cemetery developed for those who died in the Pacific campaigns during WW II. Later, people who died in Korea and Vietnam were buried here. These days those who served in the military who want to be buried in a military cemetery are buried at Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery in Kaneohe, Hawaii, also on Oahu because the Punchbowl is full to capacity. Along with the history lesson found by reading the various signage in the cemetery, another interesting feature its it’s punchbowl shape. The cemetery resides in the dormant volcano, Pouwaina which was aptly named. Pouwaina means consecrated hill or hill of sacrifice.

As a person who wasn’t the best at paying attention in social studies in high school, I found my trip here fascinating. I had a tour guide though who had a personal connection. My great uncle who retired from the army as a Lt. Colonel and stayed in Hawaii after wards since this was his last posting (and frankly, if you were retiring and happened to live on O’ahu, would you leave?) served in WW II, Korea and the Vietnam War. Even without my uncle, you’ll get a sense of the far reaches of the people who are buried here. Thousands of them were never identified.

Here’s a website I found Acres of Honor, that has in depth descriptions of the cemetery, plus photos and movies. There is a link to visiting information as well.

Veterans Day memorials and the Tomb of the Unknowns

Years ago, when I was visiting my great aunt who lived near Ft. Knox, Kentucky, she took me to the base’s officers’ club for dinner. She was a major. Here’s the thing. She became a major during WWII, and, years later, whenever she passed onto the base, she had the honor of being saluted at the gate by a young strapping male. She was in her mid 80s. Sweet. I was impressed.

With Veterans Day being today, I thought of her. This got me thinking about memorials as well. There’s no better memorial bounty than Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Here’s the line-up. If you click on each, you’ll get a mini history lesson: Civil War Memorial, Spanish American War Memorial, World War I Memorial, National World War II Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, and Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

One of the most moving places at the cemetery, I think, is the Tomb of the Unknowns. Here there are four white marble sarcophagus, one for WWI, WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Inside each is a soldier (or soldiers) from that particular war who was unidentified. That soldier stands for all the other soldiers who died from that particular war and were never identified.

Stop by during the Changing of the Guard, an elaborate feat of solemn pageantry. As I was looking for more information about this tomb, since I haven’t been here since I was perhaps in the 8th grade, I came across the Society of the Honor Guards Web site. This organization is made up of soldiers who have guarded the Tomb of the Unknown Solider (It’s more common name) since the 1920s. The page of FAQs provides info like the number of steps the guard walks with each pass of the tomb. Answer is 21. The number symbolizes the 21 Gun Salute.

With DNA testing, it seems never being identified is not as likely to happen. Even the tomb for the unknown soldier from the Vietnam War is empty. In 1998, DNA tests were done on the remains of this soldier and he was identified as Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie. It’s even known what happened to him. He was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam. Since he was exhumed, the tomb has remained empty. That’s haunting and as poignant, I think.