WAR AND REMEMBRANCE

Names in cold stone and white marble. A pool of water that is filled with lily pads. Grass  that looks like the richest velvet. And trees that stand guard and branches that make the only sound we hear.

This is the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten. I didn’t know about this place until I had moved here and it became one of the places that I wanted to visit right away.

There are 8,301 American soldiers (from WWII) buried here. You will see a sea of white marble crosses and stars of David, all engraved with the soldier’s name. On either side of the reflecting pool there are large stone walls with the names of 1,722 soldiers missing in action. It is 65.5 acres of remembrance and natural beauty.

I don’t think many Americans know about this memorial, I know I certainly didn’t. And I am also assuming that not many Americans know about World War II and the Netherlands…how Americans, Canadians and the English liberated this country from five years of occupation.

In fact, the Americans liberated Margraten in September, 1944. In November of that year, a battlefield cemetery was created on this very site. The Dutch government gave the land for a permanent burial ground for Americans, without charge or taxation. In 1960, it was officially dedicated as the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial.

As I walked the grounds and read the names on the crosses and stars of David, I saw a few graves had flowers on them. But only a few. At the wall of soldiers missing in action, there were two bunches of flowers. I can only assume that family members had been here. It struck me how difficult it must be to not be able to visit your child’s grave or to know that his/her name is on a marker or a wall in the Netherlands and there is a good chance that you will never see it in person. It is painful enough to lose a loved one, but to not be able to be at their resting place, must make it even more painful. But as quiet as this cemetery is, it does have many visitors from all over the world. Visitors take their time here, as we did. You do not honor these soldiers by rushing through this place. It was important to me to read the names, to see what state they were from and when they died. Some died on the day that the Netherlands was liberated (May 5, 1945) or soon after. As we walked along we read the names out loud. This may sound silly, but I felt that if no family member has ever visited these graves, it was important that someone say their name out loud. But some graves had no name at all, just the words “Known but to God”.

I told the children that it is a tradition in the Jewish faith to put a stone on a grave as a way of remembrance. I thought it was done only on the Jewish graves, but I now understand that the stones can be put on crosses as well. Anyway, I said that it was too bad that the grounds were so well tended as I did not see any stones or rocks. The children took on the task of finding stones and they were very successful. They would go up to a star of David, lay the stone on top, say the soldier’s name, and then say “rest in peace”. The children did this about 20 times. To watch two children hunt for stones, lovingly place them on the marble and to
hear them speak in hushed and respectful voices, it was another highlight of an already overwhelming day.

After we walked past the rows of graves, there were some steps leading to a huge flag pole. As you look up you see this glorious American flag flying across the blue Dutch sky and nothing more needs to be said. It is so still and quiet, the only sounds are the branches and  leaves in the breeze. The simplicity of this place is very moving.

For me, an American living in the Netherlands, this visit meant the world to me. It was the combination of my two worlds and I was proud of both. It was also another reminder of how cruel war is and how many parents, siblings, wives and relatives lost their golden boy or girl.

Here are some photographs of our visit.  It was certainly a day to remember, and I am happy to share it with you.

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Comments

  • Sandra  On July 19, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    Thank you for visiting and remembering and honoring.

  • Loree Griffin Burns  On July 19, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    Thank you for sharing this, Jane.

    Loree
    xo

  • aledysver  On July 19, 2011 at 8:24 pm

    I never visited this American cementery but your description of it is very touching – I could feel the atmosphere as if I had been there. How sweet of the kids to go searching for rocks to put on the tombstones of the soldiers! To think how everything might have been different for them if it hadn’t been for those soldiers lying there…

  • siobhan duff  On July 20, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    Jane,
    Thank you for sharing this story with us. I never knew of the American Cemetery in the Netherlands.
    Thank you again
    Siobhan

  • Cecile  On July 21, 2011 at 4:12 am

    This post really moved me, Jane. I must have read it 5 times…and my thoughts have returned to it numerous times today. Thank you so much for allowing us to feel a part of the awesome emotions you experienced. Your blog always enriches my day. Keep up the good work! Please 🙂

  • American/Dutch friend  On February 22, 2014 at 6:42 am

    This is a “mini Arlington”. It’s worth a visit if you’re in the area. As a Dutch/American living in Atlanta, I hope to visit again soon..

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