Faces of Margraten
The Dutch have never forgotten their American Liberators. Each year, as their cemetery hosts the Faces of Margraten and United Adopters of American War Graves, a unique tribute honors the men and women buried and memorialized there.
In collecting photos since 2014, they have linked a face to the names inscribed on marble headstones and Walls of the Missing. Visitors paying homage can now visualize the faces of Americans who sacrificed their lives in liberating the Netherlands. More than 6,000 images have been collected to date in that effort.
The museum exhibits WWII maps of operations noting the achievements of American Armed Forces in the area.
The walls on either side of the Court of Honor contain Tablets of the Missing on which are recorded names of 1,722 Americans who gave their lives in service to their country and rest in unknown graves. Beyond the chapel and tower, the burial area is divided into sixteen plots. Here rest 8,301 American dead, most of whom lost their lives nearby. Their headstones are set in long curves and a wide tree-lined mall leads to the flag staff crowning the crest.
Each year on Memorial Day (28 May) the dead are commemorated. In 2005, President Bush attended a large solemn meeting which marked the first time an American president visited the cemetery. The following quote is from a speech President Bush gave that day:
“On this peaceful May morning, we commemorate a great victory for liberty, while thousands of white marble crosses and Stars of David underscore the terrible price paid for that victory. For the Americans who rest here, Dutch soil provides a fitting home. It was from a Dutch port that many of our pilgrim fathers first sailed for America. It was a Dutch port that gave the American flag its first gun salute. It was the Dutch who became one of the first foreign nations to recognize the independence of the new United States of America. When American soldiers returned to this continent to fight for freedom, they were led by a President (Roosevelt) who owed his family name to this great land.”
The cemetery site reflects a rich historical background. Lying near the famous Cologne-Boulogne highway, originally built by the Romans, the route was used by Hitler’s legions in May 1940 to overwhelm the Low Countries. In September of 1944, it was once more utilized by German troops in withdrawing from countries they occupied for four years.
HE CARRIES A PURPLE HEART
Reflections by Janie Simon
Living so close to Margraten allows me opportunity to visit often and proved especially wonderful this last week during Faces of Margraten. Each visit, I become part of an unfolding story and each time thought it could not be more heartfelt. However, the stories kept coming and my heart overflows with a gratitude to Sebastiaan Vonk and his team of volunteers who provide the backdrop for these stories to come to life.
On one of my last visits, I started my meandering through the graves on the right side of section C and worked my way towards the flagpole and then back down the other side towards the carillon bell tower. Almost to the end of section A, I spotted an elderly couple next to a grave taking turns photographing each other. I approached them and asked if they would like a photo together. Both of them were very emotional and I asked them if this was their adopted soldier and they began to tell me about Robert E. L. Price, the soldier buried there.
The elderly man, Mr. Stevens, began by saying that Robert had been part of his family since 1945. He told me they lived in Valkenburg in a home across from a laundromat where all clothes from soldiers who died on the battlefields were washed. This was quite an impression on the young boy and his mother and when learning the soldiers were buried in Margraten, they visited and vividly remember the muddy field and wooden crosses. It was then his family adopted the grave of Robert E. L. Price and became a faithful “caretaker” of Robert’s memory ever since. Having communicated with the soldier’s family over the years, they have visited Mr. Stevens, Margraten Cemetery, and Robert’s grave.
As he finished his story, Mr. Stevens reached into his pocket and removed a small cardboard box that was clearly very old. It was addressed to Mrs. Mary L. Price of Monroe, Ohio. Inside this box was a beautiful case which contained Robert’s original Purple Heart medal. I was dumbfounded. Also inside was an original pamphlet of Purple Heart stamps and the official letter written to the family which accompanied the Purple Heart. He told us the grandchild of Robert E. L. Price was cleaning his mother’s garage after her death and found the medal. He decided it more appropriate for the adopted family to be its caretaker, as he had no children of his own to receive it, and felt belonged with Robert’s adopted family who faithfully cared for his memory for so many years.
After listing to Mr. Stevens’s story, I observed his wife was very emotional. She was unable to speak so he continued to tell me her story. Mrs. Stevens was born during the war and lived in Schevingen in The Netherlands. Her father was a resistance fighter and was betrayed at the end of the war and taken to Germany and imprisoned. He was able to escape and there ends his trail. There has never been closure for his daughter, so every visit to the grave of Robert E. L. Price feels for her that she is visiting her father’s grave. Several years ago she contacted the Red Cross and asked for any records of her father but to this day he lays somewhere in an unknown grave and, haunted by this, she lays her grief down at the stone of Robert Price.
I have really been privileged to meet so many Dutch people who love and remember their liberators and to hear their stories. Like ripples on the water, the spirits of these young men radiate outwards ensuring their names are never forgotten.
“A nation reveals itself not only in the men it produces
but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.”
John F. Kennedy