His mouth in an open roar, the grime covered lion of the north stares toward the distracted police officer who stands straight as a nail atop the stairway leading away from the Colonnade du Congress.
The lions are too dirty.
The officer gazes at some unknown person or object down Rue Royale.
Keep looking that way you collaborator.
Guarded by the unkempt and unyielding lion, I walk around his platform, slipping the small collection of spring flowers from behind my back so they are always on the other side of my body from the distracted police officer.
How could the Germans keep us from honoring my brothers from The War?
I approach the front of the Tomb at the base of the column, laying the flowers down directly atop the plaque for the fallen which lies in between the statues for Freedom of Association and Freedom of Education.
We can no longer gather together, nor teach the proud history of Belgian soldiers.
Pausing for a moment, I offer the unknown soldier, and all he represents, my prayers on this anniversary of the end of The War. My chest heaves, pushing me forward so I’m bent over the plaque, as tears well in my eyes.
Your sacrifice will be redeemed. We will be free again.
Raising my eyes toward the eternal flame, I’m shocked to see it’s orange hue flickering in the morning breeze.
They have not extinguished you.
They cannot extinguish you.
Backing away with respect, I wait until my feet are past the base of the lions before turning away from the tomb. Immediately my eyes return to the police officer at the top of the stairs. He is now facing directly across the street toward the Tourism Office.
Honor, my friend, Honor.
Running my hands down my uniform, I straighten my lapel and trousers before returning to my post.
We may be banned from honoring our War dead, but as long as I’m in charge of this tomb they will be honored.
Directly after Belgium surrendered to Germany on May 28, 1940 the NAZI occupation forces instituted several restrictions on the Belgian people, including an edict banning tribute to the dead from World War I. Germany was humiliated by Belgium in World War I, and had no taste for those responsible for that humiliation to receive any honor. Despite this edict, Belgians continued to pay their respects to their fallen from the previous war. These early acts of non-violent resistance led to the creation of a resistance movement across the country, forces that eventually cooperated with, and played a meaningful part in, the liberation of their homeland in 1944 and 1945. After the war two additional plaques were added to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier honoring the dead from World War II, as well as those who have fallen since. On November 11 each year the King of Belgium visits the tomb, honoring all of the people who perished for the country.