"It is a unique occurrence in the history of civilization.”
May 25, 2015 7:28 AM   Subscribe

They haven’t forgotten. For 70 years, the Dutch have come to a verdant U.S. cemetery outside this small village to care for the graves of Americans killed in World War II. On Sunday, they came again, bearing Memorial Day bouquets for men and women they never knew, but whose 8,300 headstones the people of the Netherlands have adopted as their own.
posted by Johnny Wallflower (27 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
What a beautiful article.
posted by sallybrown at 8:04 AM on May 25, 2015 [5 favorites]

Mod note: A few comments removed; let's start over with more of a focus on the content of the actual thing linked in the post.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:14 AM on May 25, 2015 [9 favorites]

A similar story from soon after the American Civil War, with a sadly typical narrative arc.
posted by Etrigan at 8:35 AM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

The movie, A Bridge Too Far (1977), is about Operation Market Garden.
posted by Brian B. at 8:40 AM on May 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Sure is dusty in here.
posted by WidgetAlley at 8:58 AM on May 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

My parents are in Njiemagen today, and got a historical tour about Market Garden. Wish I was there, too.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:06 AM on May 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

That they care so deeply after so long and still feel such gratitude for the sacrifice of these young men restores some of my faith in humanity. The magnitude of loss is nearly impossible to wrap my head and heart around.
posted by cecic at 9:35 AM on May 25, 2015 [8 favorites]

Thanks for posting this.

The Netherlands recently did something similar for the family of a Canadian private, Albert Laubenstein, who was killed during the Canadian liberation of the Netherlands but whose final resting place wasn't known.

Pte Laubenstein was killed during the Battle of Kapelsche Veer on January 26, 1945, and his body was interred with care in a battlefield grave, which could not be re-located at the end of the war, according to the CF. His remains were discovered in June 2014 and his identification announced in the spring of 2015.

Canadian veterans are welcomed with open arms in early May every year when the Netherlands marks Liberation Day. This year, some of the few surviving veterans remarked that this might be the last time they're able to go.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 10:04 AM on May 25, 2015 [6 favorites]

I was gonna say... Dutch commemorate Canada's contribution every May and do it in the Netherlands and in Canada too. I thought it was some sort of NDP rally :)
posted by ethnomethodologist at 10:51 AM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

My dear 85 yr old father was 16 at the end of WWII. He saw V2s being launched from The Hague towards London. He saw a V1 fly over until suddenly the motor failed and it started to descend onto their village of Eerbeek creating a huge crater and killing multiple people. During the hunger winter he used to go cycling to friendly farmers to get milk. He had extremely strong hands from endlessly sawing wood during that same hunger winter. He saw a P38 Lighting crash and its aluminium melt in the fire after getting shot into flames by other circling P38s to prevent it falling into the hands of the Germans. He would listen to Glenn Miller after tinkering with his secret crystal radio receiver. Etc.

That is to say: for him the experience of occupation during WWII was a formative experience. I just talked to him and on his behalf and mine I'd like to say thank you to all the Canadian and American soldiers who took great risks and went through great hardship in liberating the Netherlands.

Thank you.
posted by jouke at 10:51 AM on May 25, 2015 [42 favorites]

It's a nice article. I think it talks in a bit too general terms when it mentions "the Dutch" as if this is a nation-wide thing and not something in one small part of the country and I wish it went a bit deeper into the history of the Margraten cemetery. It makes it look like this was always an American-only cemetery. There used to be 700 Russian soldiers who were buried there, and many soldiers from other nationalities. They were reburied elsewhere and I don’t think people are remembering their birthdays or bringing flowers to their graves.

It’s interesting that it’s apparently relatively easy to make people feel really good. Bring flowers to a grave a few times a year, and we marvel about "a unique occurrence in the history of civilization". But we also have our Polish allies to thank for our liberation and many Dutch people resent the fact that Polish people can work here now that Poland is a EU member state. I don’t think as a people we are remarkably grateful to our liberators at all, though of course that does not mean that these gestures from individuals aren’t touching.
posted by blub at 11:03 AM on May 25, 2015 [10 favorites]

My parents were married in the Netherlands in 1943 and emigrated to Canada in 1953. Neither of them talked about life in an occupied country much, except for liberation of course. I owe a lot to all of the veterans, perhaps even more than I can completely understand.
posted by Barticus at 11:05 AM on May 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

I cried twice reading this article. Then I think of the wars of today and I say for what??
posted by Blowin_In_The_Wind at 11:53 AM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

As a young American immigrant to Western Europe I am keenly aware of how I've shipped myself across the Atlantic at the same age my grandfather did, and will be here for only a little longer than he was, but for a peaceful and scientific purpose that was only made possible by the sacrifices he made on his journey. This summer I will be going past this cemetery as I cycle through three countries across invisible borders where defensive lines once stood, I will be sure to stop by and to bring flowers from metafilter.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:55 AM on May 25, 2015 [17 favorites]

I'm sorry if this will be long and disjointed, but I am in tears seeing this article as this cemetery has been on my mind all day. My grandfather is buried there. I have visited twice, once as a teen on my own, and 10 years ago, with my 6 year old son and my father, the war orphan whose father is interred there. The beauty and peace of this place cannot be overstated. It's breathtaking. A local family adopted the grave after the war. The 'mother' of that family would regularly write to my widowed grandmother and they maintained a relationship for years. The care of the grave has been handed down through that family to this day.
As a teen studying abroad, I visited about a month after my parents visited for the first time. I went into the office to find the directions to my grandfather's grave. The man I asked for directions turned out to be the Superintendent. When I said who I was looking for, he said "Are you (my name)? I was wondering if you would come! If you had told me you could have stayed with my family." He then spent the day showing me around and telling me about the history. It was a beautiful, touching day.
To mark the 60th anniversary, my entire family made the trip to Margraten. My son was given the honor of taking down the flag the night before the Memorial Day Ceremony. The Ceremony was the most moving experience I have been through. Tens of thousands of locals came to honor "the Liberators." Dignitaries, war orphan groups, families filled the entire area. Memorial Day was about honoring the dead who had given their lives. It was not about BBQ and beer.
And the most amazing thing...we met the family who had been taking care of my grandfather for 60 years. The connection was immediate and overwhelming, like we had all know each other forever. We ended up spending the weekend with the family, meeting all the members, going out to meals, talking like long-lost family. We are all in touch still. My grandmother took a lot of flack from her family for choosing to leave my grandfather there, but we have no doubt it was the right decision.
I can't put into words what this cemetery and the care of the local families means to me and my family. I should have waited to write this until I could put it together coherently, but it's an emotional topic for me and that time may not come soon.
posted by Cloudberry Sky at 11:56 AM on May 25, 2015 [66 favorites]

I just wish there was some way I could give the entire population of Margraten a huge heartfelt hug.
posted by TDavis at 12:09 PM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Blowing_In_The_Wind I agree. When I hear about the ravages of war in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan I think of what WWII meant to the NL and then I'm so sad.

It seems to me that war is all about the utter destruction of everything that people hold dear. Not about glorious victory. I wish politicians would remember that.
posted by jouke at 12:20 PM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Around 20 years ago, as a teen, I spent a week staying with a local family, in a small town in Holland with a family. It was part of a 3 week marching band tour.

They were wonderful and the town was wonderful. At the end of our stay we put on an evening concert for the townspeople. It was sad to say good bye. The good bye scene has been forever etched into my memory because it was such a profound mind awaking for 15 year old me. The Mother and Father of the family cried and said that they were so honoured to have us because of what Canadians did during the war. They thanked us. It was emotional.

At the time it was all so weird. I couldn't grasp why these people who housed and fed me for the week were thanking me, for something that occurred before I was born.

It stuck with me even though I didn't get it. I at least recognized that something profound and big was at play.

I get it now. It now makes me cry when I think about it. It just says so much about hond w humanity can be good and I appreciate that now that I'm older.
posted by Jalliah at 12:24 PM on May 25, 2015 [7 favorites]

That was amazing. Really beautiful.
posted by persona au gratin at 2:08 PM on May 25, 2015

It seems to me that war is all about the utter destruction of everything that people hold dear.

Although on this occasion I think it seems partly to have been about creating undying gratitude for the gift of freedom.
posted by Segundus at 2:37 PM on May 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

I read this and also found myself in tears. So I called my Stepmom and got a lesson in memorial care, she takes care of 12 graves. I bought flowers and went up into the mountains where my Father lies, and thanked him for his qualities that I carry forward. He is a veteran of WWll, Korea, and Viet Nam. The clouds were partimg, lifting off peaks green right up to new snow, and a meadowlark sang out, again and again.

I spent time in Holland as a kid, the Dutch were very kind to my military family.
posted by Oyéah at 3:56 PM on May 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

I recently found out that my great uncle is buried at this cemetery. I don't think anyone alive in my family has been to his grave - my mother had been there but she passed away several years ago. I would like to visit so if anyone can offer ideas about how to get there, that would be very helpful. I'd also love to find out who adopted his grave. Thanks for any help you can offer.
posted by kat518 at 5:13 PM on May 25, 2015

kat518--I can memail you with the info that I have. It's a beautiful trip.
posted by Cloudberry Sky at 5:18 PM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

kat518 you can contact the grave adoption foundation by mail or email.
Send me a memail if you have any other questions.
posted by jouke at 6:21 PM on May 25, 2015

There's website where they try to provide photos of and information about every man and woman.
If you have pictures and information about a relative you can contact them and they will add it.
posted by jouke at 6:31 PM on May 25, 2015

jouke-thank you for that link. I found my grandfather. The picture on it is the only one we have of my father with his father.
posted by Cloudberry Sky at 6:42 PM on May 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

There are few more admirable things done by people in memory of others whom they have never met for tragedies that now teeter on the edge of living memory.

One of the very few photos we have of my grandfather in Europe during the war is a photograph taken of him outside an HQ building in Holland. Without a doubt, I am sure he found himself treated quite well by those he encountered as his unit continued its way on to Germany.
posted by Atreides at 7:01 AM on May 26, 2015

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