Verdun – House of Bones
In the mid 70’s my husband, a Captain then, my daughter, and I visited the Verdun Battleground which was not all that far from where my husband was stationed with the 2/81st Artillery Battalion in the Strassburg Kaserne near Idar-Oberstein, Federal Republic of Germany or West Germany as it was really known to us then.
Verdun was a necessary trip for these two history loving adults (not sure what my very young daughter thought of the trip).
My personal interest in all history has always had to do more with intelligence operations, rather than the fighting, but I was very eager to see this vaulted military battlefield.
I tried to take it all it. I beefed up my revisiting of works about Verdun before the trip, and read additional sources out loud to Bob and poor Angela on our road trip.
In the seventies, Verdun Battlefield was still an awkwardly denuded section of land in an otherwise bucolic French landscape.
It had been a pleasant trip in an area of Europe which is at once both French and German, even then. Kind of like Virginia and West Virginia with a similarly separating language. A lovely drive, some French wine and food, and then the battlefield.
All was good until I visited the House of Bones. Inside the memorial is a somber but tasteful mausoleum with the names of many of the fallen and their units. Elegant, respectful. Then I left the interior of the memorial and walked around the exterior of the building. From the exterior, I looked through windows into the basement which is the tomb of the unidentified fallen, actually, the bones of the identified fallen. In piles of major bones laid the remains of those who had died, unnamed at that savage WW1 battlefield.
From that point, a different reality about war became part of my psyche. The utter waste of war can be felt viscerally by looking at those heaps of bones, once individuals, personalities, family members, lovers, future leaders, and now crumbling bones of those who once dreamed, loved, feared, cared.
So, I honor our military and their civilian counterparts, but not, not the waste and inhumanity of war.