Dutch thank Americans for WWII service in Memorial Day weekend ceremony
The Netherlands honored the American soldiers who fought and died in the Second World War during a Memorial Day ceremony at the American cemetery in Margraten on Saturday. American ambassador Pete Hoekstra was among the attendees. "Today, we stand here with bowed heads, deeply grateful to these fallen soldiers for the legacy they have given us. A legacy of freedom and justice for all", Minister Stef Blok of Foreign Affairs said in his speech at the ceremony.
The Minister started his speech by quoting from a letter 10-year-old Dutch girl Ileen wrote to her American pen-pal Stella. Ileen, who also attended the ceremony, wrote Stella about her family, the craft works she put in her room, and her hockey team, decorating the letter with glittery stickers. Blok read from this "very ordinary" letter "because behind these simple lines lies a powerful story. These two girls are united by a special bond. A bond created by a historic turn of events", he said.
75 years ago Ileen's family lived in Nazi-occupied territory and her great-grandfather was forced to work in the German armament industry. Stella's great-great uncle, 21-year-old Calvin Bjornsgaard, joined he American troops who came to help liberate Europe. Ileen's great-grandfather survived the war. Stella's great-great uncle did not. "A fate shared by so many young American soldiers, who fought for our freedom. Something we will always be grateful for", Blok said. "Their sacrifice meant the victory of freedom over oppression. Of democracy over tyranny. Of life over death. On the rubble of that devastating war, we were able to rebuild our shattered societies."
"Peace should never be taken for granted. That's why we continue to commemorate all those soldiers. Why we still share stories of courageous young men like Calvin. And why we teach our children about the Second World War. Dutch families adopted every one of the 8301 graves behind me - and the 1,722 names on the walls of the missing - and are passing this responsibility on across generations", Blok said.
Ileen's great-grandfather adopted Calvin's grave. "His daughter Miny took over this stewardship, ringing Calvin's mother every time she laid flowers at the white headstone. Then it was Ileen's grandmother Marjan's turn. And one day Ileen's uncle Bas will take over as the custodian of Calvin's grave. 75 years later, 2 families are still connected by a shared history of courage and sacrifice, gratitude and friendship", Blok said. "Two families, one from the United States and one from the Netherlands - 5 generations - who became friends."
Today Ileen and Stella write letters to one another. "Letters showing that these girls live in a free country, where they do not have to be afraid. Where they can play hockey and do handicrafts. Where they can go to school and learn. And build their own future. A future made possible by brave men like Calvin", Blok concluded. "Today we express our deepest gratitude to all those courageous soldiers who are buried here - who paid the ultimate price for our freedom. We will continue to honor them. Peace can never be taken for granted."