May 8th is VE Day here in Europe, marking the day of Germany’s unconditional surrender in WWII, in 1945. It’s a national holiday here in France and what I find most touching is that villages across the nation celebrate those soldiers who gave their lives in the wars.(November 11th, Armistice Day, is when WWI’s end is celebrated, however, often villages remember the dead from all recent wars on each day.)
While I can’t speak for all of France’s regions, here the townspeople follow the maire (mayor) up to the village’s cemetery and, with much ceremony, the name of each person from that village who died in the wars, is read off, followed by a chorus of “Mort pour la France,” died for France. It’s incredibly moving, even if you’re someone like me who, because my parents lived through WWII in Ireland, which managed to remain neutral, has not been directly touched by these wars.
As time passes, fewer people remain who feel that connection and so the crowds of participants inevitably grow older and wane, until they are either unable to attend or are gone from us altogether. It is rare these days to see anyone in attendance who isn’t retired.
Time heals wounds and blurs memories, until it’s easier to forget than to remember. Some argue it’s best to just put these incidents behind us, but I think they miss the point that the celebration isn’t to remember the horrors of the wars—and WWII in particular is a painful memory for France—but to remember the existence of each individual who fought for their country and laid down their life so that the rest of us might live in liberty. How different our lives might have been, had they not made the ultimate sacrifice.
I started this blog five years ago after attending this very celebration, just a couple of months before settling here in central France, and I’m struck by just how fast those five years have gone, how often the pace of life overtakes us, and how typically it’s all we can do to keep up with the day’s happenings. (And the pace of mine is admittedly nowhere near what it was when I was living in the US.) I, too, have fallen short of my good intentions to keep family and friends updated here on what’s been happening because I’ve been so wrapped up in work, travel, life in general, and the endless quest to get this ancient house upgraded.
If I’m not careful, the epitaph on this blog’s tombstone is going to read, “Mort pour la France.”