History of the AWON Overseas Memorial Day Remembrances • Summer, 2006


AWON "Ambassadors" Régine, Marie, and Bernard Achten
at Henri-Chapelle • Memorial Day, 2006

 

My wife Régine Villers and I are “godparents” for several men who rest at Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Belgium.

In 2002, as we were returning from the Memorial Day ceremonies, I mentioned to Regine that it was unfortunate there was no AWON wreath laid among all the others.

By that time, we had become closely associated with Rik Peirson, whose father 1st Lt John S. S. Peirson is buried at H-C, and Sharon Crowley Connor (daughter of Sgt. William E. Crowley), so we suggested that if the idea were not too bold, Régine and I would be honoured to place a wreath next year. They were both thrilled by the idea. They told us they imagined how wonderful it would be if wreaths were someday placed at ALL the ABMC cemeteries on Memorial Day.

In the summer 2002, we had the honour to meet Sharon and to have her stay with us for one week. During her stay in Belgium, Sharon visited the cemeteries of H-C, Margraten and Hamme, Luxembourg. While there, she “made connections” with a staff member of each cemetery in order to check on the possibility of such a project And so, thanks to our privileged contacts with the staff of Henri-Chapelle, we had the honour to lay the first wreath on behalf of 24 AWONers in 2003!

Sharon took the lead to coordinate this new project. She solicited AWON members to volunteer to be stateside coordinators for the cemetery where their fathers (or other relative) are buried or memorialised. That coordinator then contacts the other AWON members who have a relative buried there to learn if they’d like to participate in contributing to a wreath to be presented at that cemetery. The stateside coordinator is responsible to find someone overseas who agrees to take care of the wreath arrangements and of the laying – an overseas coordinator.

In 2004, an AWON wreath was laid at 7 overseas cemeteries, representing 223 members. In 2005 wreaths were laid at 13 cemeteries for 336 members, and in 2006 the vision came true – a wreath was laid at each and every overseas cemetery, including a WWI cemetery that has 24 WWII Unknowns. Bravo!

Sometimes the experience becomes even richer and more moving, when an AWONer travels to the cemetery to be there for Memorial Day. They get to lay the wreath themselves! In 2004, Avonne Clapsadl, daughter of Cpl. Robert W. Reiber, and her husband Larry; and in 2006, the sisters Helen Vernon and Nancy Lawson, daughters of Pfc. Elmer B. Heath, and their husbands Glen and Sherman; were here with us to share this wonderful moment. For pictures, see www.awon.org/new/memorials.html.

Since 2003, the AWON wreath intrigues the public at each Memorial Day ceremony at Henri-Chapelle. After the service many people come to admire your wreath and to read the names on the banners. (Rik Peirson creates and prints a banner for each wreath with the names of the family member for each of the participants.)

I decided to write this message to let you know how it all started, but also to ask you to make sure you participate in honouring your fathers with an AWON wreath in the years to come.


Régine, Marie, and Bernard at Marie's Baptism, 8/15/05,
to coincide with St. Marie's Day

 

Since April 2005, I have been blessed with a little girl and I understand even better what your dads must have felt when leaving you and your mother behind.

Finally, I’d like to thank the 407 AWONers of this year’s Memorial Day for sharing my dream to thank your fathers for their sacrifice in World War II, and most of all, for making it come true.

Your friend always,

Bernard ACHTEN

 

This chart accompanied Bernard's letter to show the evolution of participants.

The top photo was taken at Henri-Chapelle by AWONers Helen Vernon and Nancy Lawson.
The baptism photo was taken by a family friend, with thanks to all!