DRAGUIGNAN, France -- Sailors of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) (Ike) participated in a community relations (COMREL) event at the Rhone American Cemetery (RAC) March 9. RAC was established Aug. 17, 1944 for American Soldiers who were killed during World War II. The French government granted free use of the land to the American government as a permanent burial ground without charge or taxation. While Sailors initially expected only to beautify the areas around the cemetery, the COMREL turned into a historical lesson of the fallen Americans who lay at rest. "It was an incredibly humbling experience," said Chief Religious Program Specialist (SW/FMF/EXW/IDW) Shari M. Chisholm, leading chief petty officer for the Religious Ministries department. "We went to improve the condition of the cemetery but were also treated to a lovely tour of the cemetery and learned some history behind the brave patriots who died for our country." Sailors viewed the cemetery grounds which consisted of 861 memorial tombstones, 294 names on the "Wall of the Missing," a bronze relief map and a chapel. The map showed the military operations in the area and the advance up the Rhone River Valley.
Bruce C. Malone Jr., superintendent of the cemetery, said that hosting Sailors on the cemetery grounds was especially meaningful for himself and his crew. "It's an honor and a privilege for us to be able to share this heritage and history with these Sailors," said Malone. "I hope this trip sparked an interest in [these Sailors] about this cemetery's American history so that they will look further into it." Malone said Americans often only remember the bodies that made it back home after World War II and forget about those left behind in Europe. In the chapel on the grounds is a floor-to-ceiling mosaic mural that recalls the eternal care of the Almighty. The mural, like much of the chapel interior, was designed by Austin Purves of Litchfield, Conn. It symbolizes French parents mourning the loss of American sons. During the event, Ike Sailors also learned about the American Battle Monuments Commission, the history of the operations in France and about who is buried in RAC. "You often read about this kind of stuff in history books," said Machinist's Mate 1st Class John Armendariz, maintenance leading petty officer of Supply department's S-8 division. "But being here in person is a surreal experience. It was strange to be standing on the same grounds as where these brave men actually fought for my freedom."