For a nation of people whose own independence was purchased at high price 238 years ago, it is disappointing to see how short our national memory is when it comes to world events of fairly recent date. I would find it rare, for instance, to see so much as a hint of recognition cross the face of a high school or even college graduate of current vintage at the mention of such words as Pegasus Bridge, Arnhem, Remagen or Pont du Hoc. Unless their parents are motion picture buffs, even they might need help remembering a military embarrassment known as Market Garden. They might all be excused therefore – along admittedly with most of their fellow citizens – for failing to see why the people of Holland should make such a big deal about today: May 5th 2014. So here’s another great word for us all: Bevrijdingsdag!
In Dutch it means Liberation Day! And for the citizens of The Netherlands of all ages, it is the day when, 79 years ago, Allied forces freed their country from the yoke of Nazi occupation. It will once again be celebrated as a national holiday across that tulip-bedazzled land, and nowhere with more solemnity than the area around Maastricht. In the American War Cemetery at nearby Margraten lie 8301 American warrior-dead, their gleaming white markers outlining semi-circles amid a backdrop of manicured green lawns and white commemorative architecture. Nowhere in Europe (where more than 125,000 American servicemen slumber), will any field of honor exceed this one in well-maintained grandeur. For here, you see, the ground and grave keepers are special.
In what I can’t help but see as a stroke of wisdom, the surrounding towns decided long ago to allow local citizens to literally adopt a grave, in a program through which they would not only maintain the burial site, but search out and preserve the individual identity and personality of the soldier or airman conferred into their care and keeping. In the homes of most participating burgers one might find photographs of “their” hero, and in many cases, correspondence to and from families, friends, neighbors and school teachers of the deceased in America. Much genealogical and military research has proudly been carried out in the pursuit of these sacred duties, from which international friendships have been born and preserved.
Of course, “caretakers” pass on or move away, but no worry; the waiting list of replacement families is long and growing, so great is the perceived honor enshrined in the privileged duty. Add to all this the fact that the same adopt-a-grave policy applies to nearby cemeteries for other Allied war dead, many of whom are British, Polish and Australian troops who lost their lives in the failed “Operation Market Garden” of “A Bridge Too Far” movie fame.
It is expected that at least 30,000 people will attend today’s ceremonies at Maastricht, at which a traditional trumpet solo will render the moving “SILENCE” at the conclusion of the memorial concert. (Based upon the original “Taps” as adapted by Italian composer Nino Rossi, the performance of this heart-stirring number by 13-year old Melissa Venema in 2006 had a world-wide impact via the internet.)
As an American whose freedom-loving roots go deep, I would like to convey profound THANKS to those friends – like the people of The Netherlands – who take time to remember. I can only wish we did a better job of it ourselves.
Peter Schroyen, left, a Dutch citizen places a photo before the monument of Easy Company member William H. Dukeman, Jr. (“Band of Brothers”). Schroyen even made a trip to Denver to meet family members.
Photo Courtesy Encyclopedia Britannica