GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — Soldiers from 21st Theater Sustainment Command stationed here and in Baumholder raised a record number of funds to support a non-profit organization that recovers fallen World War I and II Soldiers — regardless of nationality — and maintains German grave sites 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 two 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.
Soldiers from the 18th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion in Grafenwoehr and 1st Inland Cargo Transfer and 702nd Explosive Ordnance Disposal Companies in Baumholder attended a small reception at Freihung town hall Dec. 12 to count and officially donate the funds, said Franz Zeilmann, community relations officer, U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria.
Lt. Col. Jonathan W. Meisel, commander, 18th CSSB; Command Sgt. Maj. Muriel Abigale Macdonald, command sergeant major, 18th CSSB; Norbert Buecherl, mayor, Freihung; Lt. Col. (Ret.) Markus Naegel, regional chairperson, German War Grave Commission; leaders from both U.S. and German militaries; and several Freihung community members were also present for the official presentation of funds.
In total, the participating Soldiers contributed approximately €4,775 to the town’s total donation of nearly €7,300, the most Freihung has donated since the tradition started 10 years ago, Zeilmann said.
“On behalf of all the participating soldiers, I want to thank you for allowing us to contribute and learn about the purpose and history of the War Grave Caring Association,” Meisel said. “This is very important for us Soldiers stationed in Germany to better understand the people and culture.”
Despite their history as opposing teams during the two world wars, the American Soldiers 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.
“The war grave association stands on three pillars,” said Naegel. “First is taking care of the fallen, the family members and the soldiers’ grave sites, second is to educate the youth about the past, and third is to build a bridge to the future. It is very unique how the 18th CSSB Soldiers have collected the donations internally. No other foreign military has done this before to support our organization. This represents the real, living camaraderie between soldiers no matter their nationality, and the true partnership between the community of Freihung and the 18th CSSB, 702nd EOD and 1st ICTC soldiers from Grafenwoehr and Baumholder.”
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.