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75 years in freedom, 7,500 faces

Both 2019 and 2020 will be remarkable years. During these years, people from all over the world will commemorate and celebrate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. The end of the war in the Netherlands came closer when U.S. soldiers crossed the border near the town of Mesch on September 12, 1944, which became the first town to be liberated. However, it would take until May 5, 1945 before the country was fully liberated. And that liberation came at a heavy price for those who fought for it. That is why we will say thank you to our American liberators who have been buried in the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in the town of Margrten. We pay tribute to them by decorating their graves and names on the Walls of the Missing with a photo. We gave our liberators our face. And for this 75th anniversary, we are looking for at least 7,500 faces. Join us in our quest and help to put a face to those who sacrificed their all for our freedom.

 

Remarks Chairman Vonk

The 22-year old chairman of the Stichting Verenigde Adoptanten Amerikaanse Oorlogsgraven (Foundation United Adopters American War Graves), Sebastiaan Vonk, asked those present to not only pause and reflect upon the past, but to also look to the future in a personal speech. Read his remarks here.

Deputy Chief of Mission Sterling
Deputy Governor Koopmans
Mayor Akkermans
Superintendent Stadler
Ladies and Gentlemen
Dames en heren, jongens en meisjes

De Gezichten van Margraten-38It was a nice little drawing of himself in uniform that Pvt. Charles Garland Brinkley made in one of his letters home. He made it for his daughter Libby to show her what he looked like. "Tell Lib this is daddy Buck and see what she will say," he wrote to his wife Ruby, signing his letter with "your loving husband." Charles was a son, a brother, a husband, a father of two, and a friend. We never believed he would be able to kill someone, his family told me. In his letters he almost never wrote about the war, only about how he missed his lovely, sweet wife, and his little girls. Charles' story is just one out of many.

What is this place that we have gathered at today? Is it a war cemetery? Is it a cemetery where soldiers have been buried? Or is it a cemetery like any other cemetery? If the more than 3,300 photos show us something, it is that most of the men and women buried here where not extraordinary, they were ordinary people like you and me. They were people with families, like you and me, they had their own interests, played sports, finished High School, did their studies, had their own jobs, a house, maybe a dog or a cat. They were anything we could be. We could have been them if we had lived 70 years ago. We can all be victims of war.

But we are not them. Unlike them, we do not live in a time dominated by war. Whereas we might be concerned about not having access to the internet or about a low phone battery, these men and women were concerned about completely different other things. They did not know whether they would make it to another day or whether they would see their loved-ones ever again. They daily faced the horrors of war: the dead, the wounded, the sound of gunfire and incoming artillery fire, never knowing where it would impact. They were taken from their normal lives to fight a war overseas. And what kind of war? War is often romanticized, in the movies, in videogames. But as one of the former gravediggers here, Dr. Jefferson Wiggins, remarked, I quote: "In Margraten, dead soldiers came in every day—some with missing limbs, some shot in the head. It made you realize that war is evil." Unquote.

But although we are not them, although we are not the soldiers buried here, we can still be like them. War still is all around us. We were brutally reminded only last Summer. 70 years after the end of World War II, it is, maybe we should say fortunately, hard to imagine for most of us what it is to be in a war. As Justine just said, we speak of freedom as if we know what it is to live without it, but we do not. I tried to imagine, especially as I grew older. I am 22 now, one year older than the soldier whose grave I have adopted, that of Lawrence F. Shea. He never became older than 21, just a young guy. I cannot imagine what it is to be send overseas on such a young age, to be under fire. Can you? Can you imagine your own kid being drafted? Or yourself? Or your brother, your sister? Your friend? Or do you have the opportunity to fulfill your dreams, an opportunity many of these men and women did not have.

Ladies and gentlemen. We stand amidst the photos of more than 3,300 soldiers out of the 10,000 soldiers buried or memorialized here. Through the hard work of our volunteers in the past years, we have been able to collect them, with support of many grave adopters and soldiers' families. I appreciate everyone's contributions to this project. It has been a common effort to gather these photos and put them out here.

It is also on their behalf that I invite you to explore the thousands of photos and to honor those depicted on them after the ceremony. They are the men and women to whom we owe the freedom that we continue to enjoy today. A freedom that has been paid for with the lives of many, as the thousands of crosses and Stars of David out on the cemetery show. But more than just thinking about the past, I ask you to think about the future. I invite you to envision the kind of society, including the norms and values for which it will stand, that we need to ensure that a war on this scale will never happen again. I hope this will be a society where we can be whoever we want to be or are. A society in which I can be whatever I want to be, no matter my beliefs or sexual orientation. A society in which we do not judge on basis of someone's skin color, gender, class, religious beliefs, etc. I hope that your visit to this cemetery will inspire you to commit yourself to make this society a reality. Let's make sure the sacrifices of the men and women buried here were not in vain.

Thank you.

Photo The Faces of Margraten/Moniek Wegdam

Donate

Would you like to contribute to keeping the memory alive? By donating just 10 dollars, you will enable us to give a face to one soldier. You can directly donate via your credit card or PayPal by clicking the button below. Click here if you want to read more. Thank you for your support!

Mollie

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