May marks the 69th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. “The War to End All Wars” was fought over a 4 year period and ushered in a new era of destruction and killing. Many parts of Europe were leveled to the ground … either by German Luftwaffe or V-1 rockets … or by the incessant bombing of the Allied forces. So many cities were destroyed that it took years – decades – to rebuild Europe.
Yet there were bright spots of humanity. Ray Dalton and I recently went to Germany for the Medica International Trade show in Dusseldorf. As we toured the city of Cologne, we were struck by the size, the dominance, the sheer beauty and magnificence of the Kolner Dom, one of the largest Catholic churches in the world. It is a tribute to many things … engineering, construction, persistence and – perhaps most importantly – Man’s ability to respond to a higher calling.
In size, the church is without peer. Towering 516 feet above the ground, it took over 600 years to complete. Toiling from 1248 until 1884, laborers hoisted huge slabs of granite on wooden cranes using ropes into the German sky. Imagine the ease with which Allied bombers could have destroyed the building … as they literally flattened almost every square inch of Cologne.
But there was a bigger issue at stake – mankind’s FAITH in a higher power. The Allies sent word to their Axis counter-parts that a deal could be struck. If Germany would agree not use the Church for any military purpose the Allies would not bomb it. When we toured this magnificent building, there were a few shrapnel marks on the granite, some windows had been blown out accidentally and had to be replaced. But the church was largely unharmed. Somehow, Man’s inhumanity to Man could be temporarily suspended when it came to matters of destruction of a church.
As we walked across this hallowed ground from our hotel to the train station, it occurred to me that even in war there can be humanity and honor. As Vietnam era veterans of the US Military (Ray was Air Force, I was Army) I felt a strong sense of pride that the honor these young men and women displayed so long ago was in keeping with the highest traditions of the military. I felt the ghost of soldiers gone, including my own Dad, who served in France and Germany during the war.
What an honor it is for us to pay tribute to the military people who served so long ago. There aren’t many left – those that are still alive are in their 80’s and 90’s. My Dad has been gone over a decade. But if you know any surviving veterans of WWII, be sure to tell them “thanks.” It just may be that we live in a free society today because of the sacrifices they made over 70 years ago.