The 26 oaks, one for each victim, were planted in Bastogne's Forest of Peace, a manmade forest that was created in 1994 to pay tribute to the many victims and heroes of WWII’s Battle of the Bulge. Just as in the Forest, where each of the over 4,000 trees carries the nameplate of an individual, these newest plantings will likewise bear the names of each of the victims of the Newtown shooting.
Organized by Mayor Lutgen of Bastogne in conjunction with Bastogne's Ecole Communale de Mageret, the December 18 initiative involved 20 children and 6 teachers who individually dug and planted each tree. U.S. Ambassador to Belgium, Howard Gutman, joined in the event. In brief remarks, Ambassador Gutman thanked the town of Bastogne for their emotional tribute to the victims of the tragedy, highlighting the strong ties the two countries have shared. Said Gutman,
'Bastogne never forgets—they don’t forget what happened here in that cold winter in 1944 and they won’t forget the tragic events of this past week in the United States.'
Hoisting shovelfuls of dirt on a cloudy winter day, the children voiced their empathy for the Newtown victims who they asserted were 'children just like us.' Participating director of the school, Sandrina Thonus, explained that the tragedy had truly touched the children and that the school had tried to respond to them with honesty and reassurance in addressing their collective fear that such a thing could happen to them, too.
'We explain that we can’t get guns in our country as easily as they can in the U.S. But we aren’t going to lie to them and tell them that this could never happen. We do tell them, however, that we will be there to defend them if it should,’ said Thonus.
This is yet one more instance of the people of Bastogne demonstrating their solidarity with the people of America to whom they feel they owe so much. The ceremony lasted a half hour and was punctuated by the playing of both national anthems. The trees will be a living memory to those who died.
Said Mayor Lutgen, ‘ To murder 20 children in cold blood goes beyond our capacity to understand.’ From this day forward, Daniel, Charlotte, Olivia, and all the other victims of the Newtown tragedy will have a tree planted in their memory in Bastogne's Forest of Peace.
For more information and to see a video on the Bastogne Tree Planting Ceremony go to http://usembe.ning.com/video/rtitvi-bastogne-tree-planting-ceremony.