Before the description of this incredible remembrance begins, it must be noted this was all paid for by the Market Garden Committee (MGC). The hotel, buses, many of the meals, was all paid and arranged for by the Dutch. Alex Omhof was the ringleader for the MGC and it can now be said with certainty that Mr. Omhof is a master coordinator. Over the next nearly week, I was the only man who got lost from the group. We seemed to drive all over Holland and didn’t lose a single veteran or soul, other than me.
Next morning we—the veterans and university students who were traveling with them—loaded into a bus and drove to Margraten Cemetery, the only U.S. military resting place in the Netherlands. Margraten was immaculate and huge and the Dutch people were treating our veterans extremely well, and some were saying “Thank you for liberating us.” (Over the next days, this must have been repeated thousands of times.)
Veterans arrived who were not with our group, including this gentleman whose accent was difficult to discern. His accent didn’t sound American but his cap and words were 100% “Made in USA.” He talked with other veterans about landing on D-Day. When he finished, I asked, “Are you American?” and again he laughed, “Of course, son, look at dis hat!” and he tapped his hat. “But your accent doesn’t sound American.” He was from Georgia but after the war had married a Belgian girl. He wanted to take her home to Georgia but she wanted to stay in Belgium. He’s been married ever since. In Belgium. We must have talked for twenty minutes. His story was so interesting that I didn’t even ask his name.
The caretaker of Margraten welcomed the veterans and gave a little speech and told some history. He seemed proud of his important responsibility.
We walked out to the graves where 8,301 Americans are at rest. Several Dutch would say that every single grave has been adopted by a Dutch family and they put flowers on the headstones at special times.
Robert G. Cole earned the Medal of Honor.
An American who parachuted into combat at sixteen years of age. He recounts the day that he and his sixteen-year-old buddy were crawling in a low space and a couple German soldiers threw in a grenade and blew off his buddy’s face, killing him. But the Germans didn’t see this soldier, so he shot them and then killed two more. Stress washed over his face as he recounted that day.
Maggie recounts how his buddy 1 LT Harry Busby had a premonition before crossing the Waal River, that he would be killed. So Harry stripped off watch and other valuables and handed those to his buddies. To try to understand why the Dutch so revere these men, and what Maggie was talking about when he, Harry and the others crossed the Waal River, it would be good to watch this trailer from A Bridge Too Far.
This clip depicts the Waal River Crossing.
After paying respects at Margraten we loaded on the bus to a village called Eerde. The corn in Helmand, Afghanistan is taller now. Firefights will be occurring today in cornfields in Afghanistan.
In Eerde were many dozens of World War II re-enactors who take their roles seriously, trying to accurately maintain or reproduce everything from the tiniest part of bootlaces to rifles, cannons and airplanes. They were a sight. They were living out there for some days, complete with World War II tents of all sizes, sleeping bags, jeeps and the works.
A re-enactor loads a rifle with blanks. Usually blanks are not loud, but these were ear-splitting like the real McCoy.
Looks can fool: The most dangerous animal on the planet is a young infantryman.
Many or all of the re-enactors here seemed to be Dutch. They brought an eerie realism, maybe because just yesterday I came in from Afghanistan. This was like a big movie. Two movies. Afghanistan and now a World War II set. It felt strangely like home. I remember one mission in Iraq, when we were moving into ambush and soon would successfully kill some insurgents, when it felt so incredibly eerie, as if I had done this thousands of times over thousands of years. With the birds and frogs and insects filling the night with sounds, and the firefights in the distance all around, and us moving in for the kill, it was like an eternal groundhog day, and then we killed them and went home. The soldiers did the killing and I just watched and said good job and later went to bed as if we had only gone to the movies.
In addition to the World War II veterans and re-enactors, there were dozens of U.S. active duty soldiers from the 101st and 82nd.
Many of the re-enactors seemed better versed in the history than the veterans. This would not be surprising; combat troops are so focused that they rarely have any idea of what’s happening outside of their gun sights. After war, many of them spend decades trying to forget about it. It’s not hard to find people who’ve done a couple hard tours in Iraq who don’t really know much about the bigger picture and don’t care to think about it for now.
All the gear is privately owned.
The re-enactors seemed to be having a ball.
The local band.
When a U.S. soldier wears a patch on the right shoulder, it means a combat tour was done with that unit. The 101st liberated Eerde and so the people put on a parade and there must have been a thousand thank yous.
During the speeches and ceremonies, Dutch kids read poems to the veterans, the band played music and people recounted the Nazi times. One person said that the Nazis threatened to hang one man, one woman and one child if the train tracks were again sabotaged. The story ended there. The Dutch, who have been fighting well in Afghanistan, had adopted a stance of neutrality and pacifism in face of the Nazis and were gulped down. Some people resisted while others collaborated. The Dutch say that even today the scars caused by collaborators have not completely healed. Imagine going through life knowing you had collaborated. Better to be dead.
American paratroopers landed near the village. During the ensuing battles, Americans, British and others, with help from the Dutch underground, routed the Nazis from Holland.