FORT BLISS, Texas — A gray, overcast, drizzly morning provided the perfect backdrop for quiet reflection on the cost of war, violence and tyranny.
Sunday morning, about 200 people gathered for the German Air Force's annual observance of Volkstrauertag, or National Day of Mourning, at Fort Bliss National Cemetery.
This German holiday is similar to Memorial Day in the United States, said Cpl. Bastian Stürke, with the German Air Force Command at Fort Bliss. It recognizes those who were killed during war, including Germans and their American and NATO allies, Stürke said.
It is also Germany's way of coming to grips with its role in World War I and II, and pledging itself to being a force for peace, freedom and human dignity in the world.
"Today, we, who are living in peace, gathered to commemorate the countless men and women that lost their lives due to war and tyranny: family members, friends, comrades and the many unknown victims of war and despotism — yesterday and today," said Lt. Col. Ingo Kresser, commander of the German Air Defense Center at Fort Bliss. Kresser took over command of the school last month and was the featured speaker at Sunday's event.
In cities and towns all over Germany on Sunday, people came together in similar events to remember fallen soldiers and the civilian victims of violence, no matter what their nationality, Kresser said.
The holiday was established in 1952 and is observed two Sundays before the beginning of Advent.
"As Germans, we feel a particular responsibility and urge to contribute to peace, to mutual understanding between nations and to nonviolent resolution of conflicts," Kresser
said. "This is the result of a long and often — especially in recent years — a very painful process."
The German Day of Mourning is also a way of recognizing more recent conflicts and deployments.
More than 50 German soldiers, for instance, have died in Afghanistan and hundreds more have been wounded, Kresser said. German service members were also deployed in the Balkans during the 1990s and for humanitarian missions, he added.
Kresser addressed the crowd in both German and English.
The National Day of Mourning "means grief and sorrow," Kresser said. It is a way to remember those who died in action during any war, the victims of tyranny and those who lost family or friends, he said.
"Here, we stand together with our American allies in ongoing operations," Kresser said in a short interview after the ceremony. "Germany is taking its responsibility toward peace, freedom, humanitarian rights and for the dignity of life. As a consequence of that decision, we are standing with our allies, especially our American allies."
The German Air Force has had a presence at Fort Bliss since 1956, just 11 years after the end of World War II.
The event included a mix of 50 German and American civilians and about 150 airmen from the German Air Force Command and the German Air Defense Center, both located at Fort Bliss.
A highlight of the ceremony was the playing of Ludwig Uhland's "Ich hatt' eienen Kameraden (I had a comrade)." Participants bowed their heads and were lost in thought or prayer during the mournful song which was played by the 1st Armored Division Band — a frequent guest and contributor for German ceremonies at Fort Bliss.