All over the world, Germans paused Sunday to remember the past and pledge themselves to a peaceful future.
Sunday is Volkstrauertag, or the German National Day of Mourning. It is the German version of Memorial Day, but it is so much more than that.
It includes a powerful call for all nations to work together for a peaceful world.
At Fort Bliss National Cemetery, more than 100 German soldiers joined with U.S. soldiers and civilian dignitaries to observe this quiet and somber holiday.
Fallen soldiers are quietly honored, but the holiday also remembers the victims of war, tyranny, oppression and terrorism. That is especially important for Germany, a nation that has had to wrestle with its role in both World War I and II.
Lt. Col. Christian Rack, the deputy commander for the German Air Force’s Air Defense Center at Fort Bliss, said it’s critically important for nations to work together to learn from the past and create a world of peace and freedom.
“There are a lot places in the world where there is no peace,” Rack said in an interview after the ceremony.
“There are people who are victims and refugees,” Rack continued. “We are thinking of all the situation, our own history and the people around the world who are suffering and are dying or have died in the past 100 years.”
Rack said Volkstrauertag is a way to “remember we need to fight for our values and we have to establish them every single day.”
“It is a fight to keep our democracy and our values,” Rack said. “That is why we choose the day to remember.”
It is not only important to remember the past but to recognize the sacrifice and courage of current service members serving in present-day conflicts, Rack said.
About 50 German soldiers have died in the ongoing war in Afghanistan, he said.
Rack served as the keynote speaker during the half-hour event.
During his short speech, he said a “decent, humane life is only possible in peace and freedom.”
“That is our task – today, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow,” he told the crowd.
The Germans have had a military presence at Fort Bliss since 1956, just 11 years after the end of World War II.
Similar ceremonies were held all over the world Sunday — in big cities and small towns in Germany and anywhere the Germans have a military presence, consulate or embassy.
Volkstrauertag is held two Sundays before the start of Advent each year. It was first established in 1919 to remember the dead of World War I.
The current version of the holiday was first recognized in the 1950s.
Anna Wirges, the Protestant chaplain for the German Air Force at Fort Bliss, said recognizing Volkstrauertag becomes more and more important as time elapses since the end of World War II.
A big part of the ceremony at Fort Bliss is the participation each year of a small element of musicians from the 1st Armored Division Band.
Spc. Daniel Wilson played solo trumpet on “Der Gute Kamerad (Ich Hatt’ Einen Kameraden),” the German version of taps.
A group of five U.S. soldier-musicians also played several other somber numbers and then finished the ceremony by playing both the German and U.S. national anthems.
“It was a nice way to commemorate those who have died in wars and in terrorist acts,” said Wilson, who is originally from Van Alstyne, Texas. “The call for peace was very special.”
Staff Sgt. William Bone, another trumpeter with the 1AD Band, said it was one of the “more heartfelt and meaningful ceremonies” they take part in each year.
“The acknowledgment of the past but looking for peace going forward is a very nice element of this ceremony in particular,” said Bone, who is from Athens, W.Va.
By David Burge/Special for the El Paso Herald-Post