Americans look to thank Dutch for tending to WWII grave sites

Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten
The memorial tower at the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten, Limburg. April 10, 2014 (photo: Godot13 / Wikimedia Commons)The memorial tower at the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten, Limburg. April 10, 2014 (photo: Godot13 / Wikimedia Commons)

A large number of American families have contacted the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten, Limburg through email in order to find out how to get in touch with the Dutch families who adopted their relatives' headstones and grave sites, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday. Thousands of families, mainly from the Netherlands, but also from Belgium and Germany have volunteered and committed to take care of all 8,300 graves of American men and women buried at the cemetery.

William Parnell, 95, wrote an email searching for the adopters of his childhood friend's, William H. Wardale's grave. Parnell visited the graveyard five decades ago, but at that time a local official did not want to reveal the identity of the adopter family. "I just want to thank you. If they need financial help, I've got very little, but I'd be more than glad to share," he wrote.

However, only 40 percent of the Dutch adopter families have connected with the American families, according to Washington Post. Americans wanting to know the identities of their Dutch adopter families can contact the Foundation for Adopting Graves at the cemetary, who always first ask the Dutch adopters if they are willing to be matched to the American families.

"Ninety-nine out of 100 say of course, they'd love to have contact, but there's always one who wishes for his privacy," a cemetery associate, Frenk Lahaye told the Washington Post.

The families contribute eight euros per year to adopt a grave, and place flowers by the headstones several times annually, including on the American holiday Memorial Day, commemorated earlier this week. The tradition has held since the cemetery's first Memorial Day service in 1945, the newspaper reported.

As a gesture of gratitude, the Dutch often refer to the dead American soldiers as "our liberators", since they liberated a big part of the southern Netherlands during the War.


The foundation can be contacted through