Fallen leaves: a story of remembrance

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jarad A. Denton
  • 501st Combat Support Wing Public Affairs
It was a cool, autumn morning, and the leaves had only recently turned from a rich green to vibrant shades of red, yellow and orange.

They held fast to their branches before a gust of wind blew them away to gently descend on the people gathered in solemn reverence at Cambridge American Cemetery, United Kingdom, Nov. 11.

"We are gathered here today to remember," said Lt. Gen. Timothy Ray, 3rd Air Force and 17th Expeditionary Air Force commander. "We are all connected to this in a very obvious way. For us, this is personal - but to some, it is not."

Speaking during the annual Veterans Day ceremony, the general reflected on the 3,812 American Service members buried beneath the marble headstones adorning the cemetery.

"I stand here in vain hope that what I have to say will add meaning and value to this place, this location and this event," Ray said.

As Ray spoke, the winds shifted - blowing the fallen leaves against the wall behind him. Known as the Tablets of the Missing, the stone wall is engraved with the names of 5,127 Americans who were declared missing in action.

"Remember the stories," Ray said, speaking directly to U.S. Air Force Airmen from the 501st Combat Support Wing, who organized the ceremony. "Remember where we came from and all those who have gone before us. We have a tremendous obligation to live a life that is worthy of the sacrifice of those who have gone before us."

With quiet and distinguished reverence, Ray joined Col. Kevin Cullen, 501st CSW commander, along with U.S. and UK military and civic leaders, in laying wreaths to honor the fallen.

"It is in unison with Remembrance Day that we honor all veterans, including many of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of freedom," Cullen said. "And when it was all over we asked for nothing - just enough ground to bury our dead."

Among the trees and falling leaves at Cambridge American Cemetery, a little more than 30 acres were needed to give the dead their last measure of peace. As a stark contrast to the fleeting nature of the fallen leaves, the headstones and monuments stand as immortal testaments to the heavy price that comes from victory - and the importance of remembrance.

"Know that your stories are great to us," Ray said. "They teach us, they lead us and they inspire us. We need to hear those stories from the past. We need to know that we don't just serve for freedom and peace - we serve to honor the legacy set for us."