My first overseas trip for the newspaper was to Luxembourg, which, world traveler that I was, I had to look up on a map. There, at age 24 or 25, I stood in the vast grand hall of a genuine and humongous castle and looked down at the most verdant valley I've ever seen while an elderly man described a day when tanks rolled through but could not overtake the castle because of its position on the steep hill.
It was on that trip that I heard the stories of how younger Jewish families were "sold" the idea that their elderly loved ones needed to be moved to a safer location where they'd be safe from the Nazis. They were loaded, along with their treasures, into trains .... you can figure out the rest of the story. Although many Jews from Luxembourg would ultimately get away without being sent to concentration camps, only 36 of those who were sent to such death traps came out alive.
In this tiny country, I knelt in a chapel below a stained-glass window that depicted Jesus in a garden with his disciples -- and an American soldier. The American soldier, in fact, was everywhere in stories of the country's history. Someone had cut an American soldier into another stained-glass window among the 12 disciples at the Last Supper. It was jarring. And charming.
It was the American soldier who brought me there, to spend July 4 celebrating America, in a land across the sea. Americans liberated Luxembourg in World War II and they had not forgotten that debt. I heard so many tales from elderly Luxembourg residents of what young American soldiers had done for them.
Not long before that, I'd huddled in a doorway in a commercial district in Athens, Greece, while angry young men marched the street protesting American capitalist policy. It was scary, but I was "saved" by Greek shopkeepers more than willing to invite this capitalist inside to buy souvenirs while the demonstration raged outside.
It was never easier to be an American than in Luxembourg as they celebrated our independence day.
Amidst the horrors of World War II, there really was no better time to be an American, although there were certainly grave challenges. Our role in the war could not be second-guessed. There was a rightness and purity and unity of purpose that America in wartime has never since achieved.
We represented freedom and justice and that old cliche, the American way back then, some 60 years ago.
As I see the stories of road rage and celebrity stupidity and corporate malfeasance and greed and plain stupidity (watched any TV lately?), I'm not sure what we look like to outsiders -- or even to ourselves -- these days. But I think it's worth giving some serious thought.
5 years ago