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'Resolve of our nation' found at American cemetery

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, EnglandĀ - Of the 124,913 American war-dead buried overseas, 3,812 are at the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial, less than a 45-minute drive from here.

The buried aren't the only ones remembered on these hallowed grounds, as the Tablets of the Missing lists 5,127 Americans who sacrificed their lives in World War II. The names on the list include Joseph Kennedy Jr., John F. Kennedy's brother; and Lt. Col. Leon Vance, a Medal of Honor recipient and for whom Vance Air Force Base, Okla., is named.

The number of war dead at the cemetery masks the individual stories of heroism, dedication and valor found with each name. As time passes and the "Greatest Generation" continues to pass, the connection between those buried and those who visit is growing more and more distant.

To "reconnect" the visitors with the heroes laid to rest, the American Battle Monuments Commission, to include the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial, is undergoing a "revolution", according to David Bedford, the superintendent of the local cemetery and an American veteran.

The plan is for the overseas American cemeteries to become more than places of remembrance. They will be enhancing them with interpretive centers, where visitors can learn the stories of those who permanently reside in the grounds.

"Our culture is beginning to change because the people who felt the loss, who knew these heroes, who felt the pains of war, are now passing on," Mr. Bedford said. "We now need to pass on those feelings and emotions to the general public and share what these heroes experienced. At the end of the day, we want you to go away with something greater."

For those visiting the American Cemetery in Cambridge now, the "revolution" can be viewed on large picture and story displays set up in the visitor's center at the entrance to the cemetery. These displays are temporarily telling the stories while the plans and contracts are finished up to construct a massive addition to the building over the next few years.

Regardless of the pictures, stories and future interpretive centers, he said every visitor since his arrival 2.5 years ago experiences something different depending on their background.

"British visitors leave understanding what our country will give to the cause of freedom," he said. "For the military visitors, their devotion to duty is strengthened."

As for the American public who visit, he said, "They seem to walk away more patriotic. They find the resolve of our nation here."

Some people live half their lives on U.S. military bases and half of their lives off, such as Karen MacKay, the British liaison officer for the 48th Fighter Wing Legal Office. She's been to the cemetery and said about how being at a place like that fills her with pride and makes her feel humble.

"When you support the military for a living, you see these men and women in uniform every day," she said. "You can read the books and read the stories and I've even been to concentration camps, but when you actually go out and see a place like the cemetery in Cambridge, it really brings home what happens during war. This isn't just a job, it makes me proud, proud to support these military personnel who are willing to lay down their lives to secure everyone's freedoms and future."

According to Mr. Bedford, more than 45 percent of the interred, and more than 55 percent on the wall of the missing, are Air Force.

"Airmen find the foundation of the Air Force here. This is where you came from," he said.

Army Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme allied commander in Europe during World War II, chose the site because of the "8th Air Force's significant contributions to the war effort," he said.

Although the future Interpretive Center is still a drawing, Mr. Bedford said everyone should visit and experience the cemetery.

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