January 9th, 1945, John W. Romero died in service to his country. How, I don’t know.
He died during the time that his unit, the 87th Infantry Division, was assaulting German positions in the campaign known now as the Battle of the Bulge. He was awarded the Purple Heart, so it is not a stretch to assume that he was killed in action, though he may not have been.
I bring this up because I had the opportunity to tour the Luxembourg American Cemetery this past week. It was a powerful moment. Every Soldier who has the means to do so should visit an American Military Cemetery in Europe during their life.
The grave of PFC Romero caught my eye for a shallow reason. He was from New Mexico, and so am I. I did not view every headstone in the cemetery, but he was the only New Mexican that I saw. There was nothing special about his grave. I came across it while touring with a group, being led to the grave of an Easy Company Soldier of Band of Brothers fame. While my group leader was talking, I spotted the grave, noted where John was from, took a picture of his grave, and moved on.
Once the tour was complete, we had some time to walk around on our own for some time. As I meandered around the cemetery, looking at the headstones, I ended up back at John’s grave. I did not intend to, but maybe there was some unconscious effort to do so. Regardless, as soon as I found myself back in front of the grave, the bells in the chapel started chiming Amazing Grace.
I lost it.
I saw the grave as not that of a faceless Soldier who simply shared a home State. I saw it as a neighbor, a friend, a brother, an Uncle. I wanted to sink to my knees and cry. This man, whom I did not know, gave his life in the service of his country. I have no idea if he did it with some reservation, if he was a good Soldier or a bad one. But as I gazed at his grave in a field of marble and grass, I realized the depth of sacrifice these men (and woman, singular in this case) made in service to their country.
How could I measure up to the sacrifice these Soldiers made? Is it a question of opportunity? Is it a question of Scale? Is it a question of willingness?
I would like to think that, given the same situation that John found himself in during World War II, that I would have been more than willing to give my life like he did. Though I have been deployed many times, I have not faced battle against an aggressive nation state with a sophisticated military. I have not had to enter battle knowing that the casualty count of the war was not in the thousands, but tens and hundreds of thousands.
War is romantic, and society values those who engage in it on their behalf. But the cost of war is painful. I found no romance in Luxembourg that day. I found pain. But I also found exemplars of Honor. And I will remember this for the rest of my life.
Post Script: I have done the most cursory of Google research to determine more about John, and not come up with more than the fact that, yes, he died. When I head home for leave, I will see if I can find out more. If I do, I will write about it so that you can know too, if I find anything.