Grafenwoehr’s 18th CSSB supports recovery of fallen WWI and WII Soldiers
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — Soldiers with 18th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion here have been fundraising the last several months to support a non-profit organization that recovers fallen World War I and II Soldiers — regardless of nationality — and maintains German gravesites across Europe.
The German War Graves Commission — Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgraeberfuersorge, in German — directly confronts the emotionally perplexing, perhaps irreconcilable challenge of properly remembering and honoring national, enemy and total human losses of war.
The organization, which maintains more than 2 million graves in over 45 countries and different war memorials throughout Europe, runs almost entirely on the grassroots support of donations, with about thirty percent of the total budget footed by the German federal government.
This year, several 18th CSSB Soldiers voluntarily pitched in, holding fundraisers and donning the iconic metal cans at unit events. Their campaign officially began Oct. 22, with all funds obtained internally.
Capt. Frank Choate from 1st Inland Cargo Transfer Company, 18th CSSB decided to reach out to the German War Grave Commission for personal reasons. His wife’s great grandfather, a German soldier in the Second World War, never returned at the close of the war.
“We knew he was a German soldier and that he was in a concentration camp in Siberia,” Choate said. “That’s all her family was ever told. So we reached out to the commission. He didn’t die in a concentration camp. He was actually moved from Siberia to a military hospital in Ukraine, and that’s where he died. They think he’s in this cemetery, but it’s such a current war zone right now so that they can’t validate everything. My wife’s great aunt is 80 or 90 now, and she never knew some of this information about her father. It’s given her a piece of mind.”
Soldiers from the battalion attended a small reception at the Town Hall in Freihung Nov. 21 to count and officially donate the funds. In total, the battalion collected about €4,500, four times more than the previous year and well beyond their target.
“We are so honored to be part of this,” said Lt. Col. Robb A Meert, 18th CSSB Commanding Officer. “This is an endeavor that I think really speaks to Soldiers. We take care of our own no matter what the circumstances are. Next year will be even better.”
Despite their history as opposing teams during the two world wars, the American Soldiers from 18th CSSB and local Bundeswehr forces relinquished the binds of national identity for a cause of shared humanity that transcends the blanket of politics.
In a real way, everyone is a victim in war.
Grappling with how to reconcile and properly honor the total number of human casualties in war is a gravely complex issue — not one easily swept under the rug by simple ideological reductions. Soldiers, civilians, children and enemies die in war. Inextricably entwined in the bloodshed and fog that distorts ethical clarity is a collective human imperfectness.
The money from local war grave donations will go toward continued transnational projects to excavate, identify and ensure the proper burial of fallen WWI and WWII Soldiers. In addition to the search of remains, the money is also used to maintain the graves of German soldiers. When soldiers from different nations are identified, the commission notifies the respective countries and aids in preserving and transferring the bodies, according to German War Grave Commission.
Previously the only foreign military unit to donate to the German War Graves Commission, 18th CSSB was joined this year for the first time by other military organizations, including the 702nd Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company. The combat support battalion has supported the commission — even through deployments — since 2009.
18th CSSB, part of the 16th Sustainment Brigade and 21st Theater Sustainment Command, is the only combat sustainment support battalion in Europe. The unit has maintained a presence in Europe since the First World War.