So I am finally back after a short hiatus in which I spent the holiday season and a couple of weeks thereafter eating, drinking and hibernating in a futile attempt to stave off the inevitable: returning to work. Anyway, I have returned to the office and to the blog, and I have decided to break my blogging fast with a piece of news that diverges somewhat from the usual topics discussed here, but which has hit very close to home for me.
When I am not working, studying or blogging I find time to serve as Commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 10658 in Schweinfurt. About six years ago this organization, an amazing collective of American combat veterans spanning a wide range of ages and conflicts, was forced to begin to come to grips with the fact that the US Army units and installations that have been here in Schweinfurt since the end of World War II would be closing in the foreseeable future. It was then that the idea to erect a monument to the service and sacrifice of every Soldier who had been stationed or served in the city from 1946 onward began to take shape. Four years later we learned that the base closure was coming sooner rather than later and the project to create the monument began in earnest.
Two local artists, Steff Bauer and Sören Ernst, were commissioned to design and create the monument. The Schweinfurt VFW and its Ladies Auxiliary conducted a huge fundraising effort, raising the vast majority of the funds through private donations from individual donors, the city of Schweinfurt donated a plot of land, and a local construction firm donated time and resources to the monument’s installation.
Finally, on Veterans Day 2012, the American Soldiers Monument was dedicated in a small but proud ceremony. In attendance was Sissy Borel, National Senior Vice-President of the VFW Ladies Auxiliary; Sebastian Remelé, Lord Mayor of Schweinfurt; LTC Michael Runey, Commander of US Army Garrison Schweinfurt; as well as a host of Veterans, past and present unit and garrison commanders, city officials, members of the media and, perhaps most importantly, the widows of several fallen American heroes. It was as solemn occasion and every speech delivered that afternoon resonated with the themes of service, sacrifice, and the partnership and friendship of two great nations.
Sadly, just two months later, the pride that was felt on that day has been damaged. Sometime between the evening of January 15th and the afternoon of January 16th vandals removed the head of the eagle, the national symbol of America and Germany, and made off with it. The local police were notified; the investigation is ongoing.
I found it difficult to put into words how I felt after I found out about the vandalism. Shock. Anger. Sadness. I couldn’t sit still; I couldn’t focus on just one emotion. Questions kept bouncing around in my skull. Who would do this? Why would someone do this? What has it accomplished? I spent most of the night somewhere between agitation and depression.
I awoke this morning to find that news of the event had begun to make its way around the regional media websites. The local paper ran a story on the afternoon of the 16th. The state police reported the attack on their website and provided a hotline for witnesses or individuals with information about the attack to report it; the state news agency reported on it as well. Several smaller websites that feature local news and events also ran the report from the police website, including one which ran it under the headline, “Who would do something like this?”
This media brush fire, combined with the outpouring of shock, outrage and grief that we have received via email and commentary, has helped tremendously. It has been heartening to read the messages of support from Veterans, Soldiers, family members, and everyone back in the United States who supported the project. Additionally, the words that I have received and seen online from German friends and family and the citizens of Schweinfurt have been a welcome boost to morale. It has been made clear that the desecration of a monument, a piece of art, a piece of this city, will not be tolerated.
This is not the end of the story. Even now we are working on plans to repair the monument, likely a long and expensive process, and we will see it restored and back where it belongs. While the symbol may have been defiled, the service, sacrifice, and friendship which it represents continues unabated. The partnership and sense of community that has been forged over more than 60 years of peacetime cooperation cannot be destroyed so easily.