Army Reserve Soldiers attend German National Day of Remembrance event

By Sgt. 1st Class Brent Powell | 76th Operational Response Command | Nov. 27, 2018

FORT DOUGLAS CEMETERY, Utah — Despite frigid early morning temperatures, more than 100 people from the local German-American community along with Army Reserve Soldiers from the 76th Operational Response Command gathered amongst rows of gravestones, granite markers, and statues to witness and honor the German National Day of Remembrance (Volkstrauertag) here Nov. 18.

The annual event has been held since 1977 and pays tribute to more than 40 German prisoners of war who are buried here. This year’s ceremony featured keynote speakers, a wreath laying ceremony and special music and singing from the German Chorus Harmonie.

“Today we pause to remember the 41 German prisoners of war that are interred here, as well as 12 Italian and 1 Japanese POW that have been laid to rest here at Fort Douglas Cemetery,” said Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert. “It’s important to remember that the present may not be held hostage by the past. Once foes on a field of battle, American and Germany are now very dear and close friends. We share fundamental values of freedom, democracy, of respect for the rule of law and for human rights.” 

Echoing Herbert’s words was Dieter F. Uchtdorf, an Elder in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and a former fighter pilot in the West German Air Force. “For me and my family, Volkstrauertag was never only a day to mourn the dead, it was a solemn reminder of the causes that lead to the tragedy of war and the need to do everything in our individual power to preserve and retain peace,” he said. “Today’s commemoration, right here on American soil is a living monument that enemies can become friends. Let us continue to be full of praise and hope for a better and more peaceful future.”

Representing the 76th Operational Response Command at the event was Army Reserve Col. Bill Crouse, chief of staff, 76th ORC. “This event is important as it allows us to consider the past and a country we once considered an enemy,” he said. “Germany has become a great ally and remembering their Soldiers who died in Utah, some of whom chose to remain here after World Wars I and II, should make us realize that our freedoms are precious and we are fortunate to live in such a beautiful place.”

Also in attendance was Army Reserve Capt. Christopher Montgomery, family life chaplain, 76th ORC. “For me the big takeaway was the unity and hope that is possible in remembering the tragic deaths of enemies,” he said. “Although we were bitter enemies with Germany at the time, the last 80 years has shaped us into allies with shared goals of democracy, life, and liberty. I think realizing this, can help reshape our current view of the world into one of hope for the future if we choose to engage in unity rather than looking for division.”

Although the ceremony seemed to be a solemn reminder of the tragedies of the past for many, it also seemed to bring hope for a peaceful future as well. “Today we honor the memory and acknowledge the service of those whose mortal remains are here in this cemetery,” said Herbert. “While we remember our shared past, we also celebrate our shared ties and our shared optimism that the future relationship of Utah and Germany will forever become stronger and more mutually beneficial as we both become bright examples to the world.”