Remembrance Day Ceremony honors sacrifice of those far from home

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- In the British Commonwealth and France, an annual Remembrance Day ceremony is held on the Sunday closest to Veterans Day to pay homage to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

The Remembrance service dates back to 1919, to honor those killed in the First World War. The commemoration has since expanded to include those who have fallen in all wars.

Annually, Royal Air Force and French Air Force officers attending schools on Maxwell pay tribute to the British and French airmen who lost their lives while in flight training in the U.S. during World War II in a Remembrance Day ceremony at Oakwood Cemetery in Montgomery.

During the ceremony, representatives from the U.S. Air Force, RAF, Royal Australian Air Force, Royal New Zealand Air Force, Royal Canadian Air Force, FAF, and the Alliance Fran├žaise, as well as members of the civilian community, lay commemorative wreaths at the Oakwood gravesites to honor the allies' sacrifices.

"Whether they fell in war or in training for war, the service of remembrance is a tradition that allows the current generation to reflect on the sacrifice of their forefathers for our freedom," said Wing Cmdr. Andrew Massie, Royal Air Force, Air Command and Staff College student.

Oakwood's gravesites not only serves as the largest Commonwealth grave in North America with 98 graves of both RAF and FAF WWII soldiers, but it also brings the tragedies of war close to home.

Maxwell ran a training program during the early 1940s for the British and French Air Forces. Flight cadets who died during training were buried in a small privately owned annex at Oakwood Cemetery in the middle of the city of Montgomery.

"It's not about the fact that they were in training," Corfield said. "When you join the military, then as now, it's a complete change of your life. These were members of the Royal Air Force and the French Air Force. They are all part of the military family, and they are not forgotten. Wherever you are in the world, whatever corner of a foreign field you are in, you are not forgotten."

During WWII, the Army Air Force Eastern Flying Training Command trained more than 2,600 Free French aircrews and more than 2,000 RAF flight cadets on Maxwell between 1940-1945.

"When we fly over France, in the fields we see scars of the trenches of WW I," said Lt. Col. Pierre Gaudilliere, French Air Force, Air War College student. "For us it is a very vivid past. My grandfather was born during WW I. He fought in the Second World War. He is my hero. There is not one single day, at the age of 99, that he does not passionately thank and admire the courage and valor of his fellow British and American soldiers for their commitment in both world wars to the liberty of his country and his descendants."

"It's always very touching to see that people care about what happened in the past," said Lt. Col Richard Gros, French Air Force, Air Command and Staff College student.

"'They died for us to live,'" Gros added, quoting part of the ceremony's opening speech as he pointed to the graves of his countrymen.