Memorial Day 2006 at Henri-Chapelle
This wreath remembers fifty-nine men beloved by their AWON families
and honors all those who rest in Henri-Chapelle.
Sister Presenters Nancy Heath Lawson and Helen Heath Vernon
look over the AWON Wreath before the ceremonies.
Holding hands during the presentation of the wreath.
Nancy and Helen are joined by American Ambassador Tom C. Korologos
at the marker of the Sisters' Father, PFC Elmer B. Heath, KIA 9 March 45.
Ambassador Korologos presented the Sisters with a certificate signed by
President Bush to remember their Father's sacrifice.
Nancy and Helen are embraced by Ambassador Korologos as James B. Begg,
President of the American Overseas Memorial Day Association (AOMDA) looks on.
Helen and Nancy with their husbands, Sherman and Glenn
finally met our "AWON Ambassadors" Bernard and Régine Achten
along with Ambassador in training Marie, 14 months.
Régine and Bernard are the originators of the AWON Wreath Laying project.
Helen and Nancy with their Father's marker.
Régine and Bernard sent this description of the day . . .
Wow, what a day this has been !
Not because of the weather, although the rain did stop pouring during the ceremony, to begin again along with a stormy wind right afterwards . . .
Now the sisters and their husbands. We had hardly entered their hotel lobby that they ran on us and gave us BIIIIIIIIIIG hugs ! They are very, very nice people and we started talking as if we knew each other very well.
We were at the cemetery at around 02.20 PM : this gave us plenty of time to go to the visitors' office and introduce them to Superintendent David Atkinson and his assistant, Caroline Oliver, who was completely overjoyed to meet Marie. ;0))
We then went to their dad's grave and took a long moment to meditate, talk about him, take pictures... Next on the list was Gloria Haslam's dad, one of our godsons, William George Gray.
Then we crossed the walking path to go to the other side of the cemetery to meet your dad. There were still traces of sand on the letters. I don't know who came or asked for a picture of his marker. We also took pictures and we said hello from you and told him how much you love him (but he knows that for sure). We also promised we'd get you over here someday, but not immediately. I am sure he understands.
Last stop at Fred's grave, more pictures.
Then we went to sit down in the VIP section. The sisters and their husbands were very well placed, on the second row, right behind the US Military representative for NATO, Lieutenant General Edward Hanlon Jr. We sat further behind because we needed seats along the alley with Marie's "car" ! ;0))
I can tell you Nancy and Helen did a wonderful job and took the wreath-laying very seriously. They were obviously very moved and shaken, and the cutest thing is they followed the wreath holding each other's hands. We hope it will show on the picture Bernard took.
Then we all went back to Nancy and Helen's father's grave because the American authorities always visit the graves of the next of kins who are present.
Boy, did they enjoy this moment !!! They were hugged by the American Ambassador, Tom Korologos, and they hugged him right back. They also received the American and Belgian flags that were planted on their dad's grave and a kind of "diploma" signed by President Bush, in recognition of their father's sacrifice. Also present was a Senator, Larry E. Craig. Like the sisters said, they had to come to Belgium to meet a US Senator ! ;0))
We got to meet the Ambassador's wife, Ann McLaughlin Korologos, a charming lady who came right to me, thinking I was one of the sisters' daughter. Then she started caressing Marie's cheek and gave her big smiles. I told her who we were and what we did and she went on talking until the AOMDA President came to call her because they were all waiting for her to go to the next grave.
As for us, we didn't realize how important this woman was at the moment she came to speak to us : we did a search on the Internet and found out she was the Secretary of Labor under the presidence of Ronald Reagan, among other things. Click Here!
Wow, what a nice lady ! We saw her again at the celebration in the village of Plombières (a very private celebration, for the VIPs only !) after the ceremony and she shook my hand and gave another caress on Marie's cheek. Then the Ambassador arrived and asked Marie to "give him five", which Bernard helped her to do, and she started to cry !!!! Fortunately this made him laugh.
But it was already over 07.00 PM and we still had a 30-minute drive to reach home so we had to leave. It was very, very hard saying goodbye to Nancy, Helen, Sherman and Glen. We only spent a few hours together but we had a strong connection with them and I am sure we will remain in very close contact.
I know they are going back to the cemetery tomorrow to spend more time with their dad and to visit the graves of 15 fellow-AWONers' dads.
This was a wonderful day, and Marie has been a doll. She wanted to see everything and as soon as we were in the car and reached the highway, she had fallen asleep. She didn't miss a thing.
In Their Memory
Thanks to Helen Vernon and
Nancy Lawson for the presentation
and for pictures four and eight above. Thanks for the rest of the pictures
to Belgian "Ambassadors" Régine and Bernard Achten, who originated
the wreath laying concept and organized the wreath and photos,
and to stateside coordinator Rik Peirson for the arrangements.