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There will be many Memorial Day observances here in the U.S. this weekend, but loved ones of service members buried abroad can rest assured their veterans will not be forgotten.
The American Overseas Memorial Day Association (AOMDA) is a non-profit organization dedicated to honoring the memory of those who gave their lives in World Wars I and II, whose final resting places are in American military cemeteries or separate graves all over Europe and even Africa.
The AOMDA’s mission is to make sure those veterans are always remembered on Memorial Day and other appropriate patriotic holidays by decorating the graves, tombs, and monuments of American servicemen and women of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Auxiliary Services buried overseas.
Founded in 1920, AOMDA representatives help coordinate and sponsor annual Memorial Day ceremonies in cities and local towns all over Europe, which have become significant community events where residents can pay their respects and express their gratitude for the sacrifices made by American veterans on behalf of Europeans in two World Wars.
Laura Hoffman, a public relations representative for the Belgian affiliate of the AOMDA told Fox News via email that this year, they expect thousands of people to attend the commemorative ceremony at the Ardennes American Cemetery in Neupre, Belgium Saturday. That particular ceremony has been a Memorial Day tradition in the town since 1946, just after the end of World War II.
There are 5,329 American servicemen buried at the Ardennes cemetery. “Honoring their sacrifice is our mission, and the heartfelt sentiment that one feels in the presence of so many local residents who attend each year without fail,” Hoffman said.
There are both Belgians and foreigners who attend the ceremony-- some of them World War II veterans, although their numbers are dwindling as many are in their 90’s. Members of the U.S. and Belgian governments and military also attend.
The AOMDA has staff in Paris and Brussels, but enlists the help of local embassies, civic and veterans organizations—and sometimes, if possible, next-of-kin volunteers– to place new flags every year on the hundreds of isolated graves in France, Germany, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, according to its website. The group also pays for floral wreaths for Memorial Day ceremonies at World War I and II cemeteries in England, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and even Tunisia.
Hoffman says many local Belgian residents have adopted graves of American vets at these cemeteries and honor them throughout the year. It’s a way of showing their appreciation for those who paid the ultimate price in the liberation of Europe.
The 7,992 servicemen buried at Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Belgium will also be remembered Saturday. Hoffman expects up to 5,000 people to come pay their respects, as this year marks the 70th anniversary of both the beginning of the liberation of Europe and the Battle of the Bulge.
“The mood is respectful, dignified and reflective. We are reminded that freedom is not free,” Hoffman said.
AOMDA Belgium has a Facebook page where followers can share their information and experiences from Memorial Day ceremonies.
“Today was Bastogne’s Memorial Day ceremony… with participation by US, UK, F, and B armed forces. The citizens of Bastogne remember!” one recent Facebook post read.
One of the organization’s goals is to continue to engage younger generations to always be mindful of American sacrifices. Social media is one way. The group also creates interactive activities with young people—both Belgian and American—like a recent local art competition asking the question, “Why should we remember them?”
AOMDA Belgium also launched a “Price of Freedom” award that kids earn by completing certain requirements, similar to achieving a Boy Scout merit badge.
“Essentially, we try to make Memorial Day come alive 365 days a year,” Hoffman said.
The organization runs on individual donations and membership dues, and gets help from the American Legion Headquarters, and many local businesses, civic and vets groups. For more information on the AOMDA or a schedule of this weekend’s ceremonies, check out their website at http://aomda.com/ or http://www.aomda.org.