In online Memorial Day ceremonies, Americans in Europe honor service above self
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KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Few people gathered at the Luxembourg American Cemetery for this year’s Memorial Day service due to coronavirus precautions. But the livestreamed event highlighted the difference just one person can make — the only woman buried among the more than 5,000 service members at the World War II cemetery.
Second Lt. Nancy J. Leo, of Cumberland, Md., served as a nurse for 16 months in Scotland, England and France during the tail end of the war. Her service with the 206th General Hospital was an example of humanity and caring amid the inhumanity of war, Rev. Jean Ehret said during the invocation.
“For how many soldiers was 2nd Lt. Nancy J. Leo the presence of a loving mother, of a caring wife, especially when they were close to death?” Ehret asked. “With her, we honor all those women who served during World War II in the Army and at home and we honor all those who fight today in the front line against coronavirus.”
The Saturday event was one of several streamed online in Europe as organizations sought to continue a long tradition of honoring the war dead each May, despite the restrictions imposed to prevent the virus’ spread.
Prerecorded Memorial Day events from St. Mihiel American Cemetery and Lorraine American Cemetery were slated to be streamed on Monday at https://www.facebook.com/usabmc/live/. They were scheduled to begin, respectively, at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. in Europe (8 a.m. and noon Eastern time).
The American Legion’s Paris Post 1, which began decorating American World War I graves on the first Memorial Day after the war in 1920, also planned to stream a service Sunday from its mausoleum outside the French capital for the first time. Completed in 1939, the site is the final resting place of some 300 U.S. veterans and their families.
“We’re still trying to make the best of it,” Bryan Schell, the post commander, said of the situation during a phone interview Saturday.
During the pandemic, technology also has helped the post reach its members, some of whom are spread out throughout France. The post has seen an uptick in attendance at virtual meetings, Schell said, including older members excited by the opportunity to participate in online streaming for the first time.
But despite the increased use of technology, Schell said, the livestreamed Memorial Day event came together somewhat unexpectedly after a call from Souvenir Francais, an organization responsible for caring for war memorials and grave sites in France.
The American Legion coordinated with the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Paris and the American Overseas Memorial Day Association, which decorates service members’ graves at remote cemeteries in Europe.
Participants at the service in Luxembourg sat in chairs spread wide apart. Though they were few, they were united with many more at other events honoring the legacy of the war dead, as well as those online, said Ehret, a professor of religious studies at Luxembourg’s Sacred Heart University.
As a nurse, Leo represented the medical professionals who risk their own health to fight “known enemies and invisible viruses,” said Cecile Jimenez, lead medical officer for the U.S. Embassy, who also offered remarks at the ceremony.
“We do these jobs because we are passionate about our work and we care deeply about our patients,” Jimenez said. “Above all, we want to help others and do our part to keep the world safe.”
Like Gen. George S. Patton, who also is buried in Luxembourg, Leo’s life was cut short as the result of a vehicle accident. Upon arriving in France, Leo had called her older sister, also an Army nurse, to tell her she would be visiting her in Paris. But she never arrived — she was killed in a Jeep accident on the way there.
“Nancy never got to visit her sister in Paris or see her mother or her little sister and brother again,” Jimenez said. “She did not get to grow old or have a family of her own, but she gave her life in the line of doing what she loved and what was important to her.”
In the fight against the pandemic, Leo and other fallen service members can be honored by following their example of making sacrifices for others’ sake, Jimenez said.